The weather’s been weird today. This morning we had a strange red sun, sand from the Sahara on our cars and an end-of-the-world sepia light. It felt like an eclipse (the woman in the post office told me all her hens had ‘gone back to bed’!).
And now it’s very windy of course because former Hurricane – and now Storm, Ophelia – is passing through. How was it with you? (As an aside, did you know that hurricanes with female names are deadlier than those with male names because they’re not taken so seriously? True fact!)
It’s also the 30 year anniversary of the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987, so I thought it might be pertinent to talk about the weather and writing.
‘Remember to get weather in your damn book. Weather is very important’ – so said Ernest Hemingway, who knew a thing or two about writing, after all.
I write mostly short stories so I don’t dwell too much on the weather (especially if the story’s set indoors!) but if you’re writing something longer, it can’t be ignored. It’s easy to take it for granted but weather affects everything: mood, health, what we wear, how we drive or walk, even, if it’s ‘big’ weather like storms, hurricanes or floods – our survival.
As well as adding conflict, tension or atmosphere, weather can also give you plot ideas. For example…
Rain & Wind
When I was putting together my serial for the People’s Friend I thought about all the different kinds of ‘conflict’ that I might use (‘man versus man’, ‘man versus nature’, ‘man versus himself’, ‘man versus God’.. and so on).
I considered the weather (that comes under ‘man versus nature’, of course) and how it might give my characters problems. I decided there should be a leaking roof in the main characters’ house and when one of the servants is sent up onto the roof – in the rain and wind – to fix it – he falls off and is badly injured.
I had a story published in Woman’s Weekly recently called ‘Fifty Words For Rain’, which was set in Scotland, needless to say. The story was based around different Scottish words for rain (had a bit of help with that one from my OH who is Scottish and uses words like ‘dreich’ and ‘smirr’ with gay abandon).
One of my favourite books, the coming-of-age novel The Go Between by LP Hartley is set during the heatwave of 1900. The main character Leo is staying with an aristrocratic school friend and has brought the wrong clothes (a wool suit that’s too warm), which adds to his discomfort and feeling of alienation. It also gives another character an excuse to take him into town to buy him some more suitable clothing – and to get him ‘on side’, in order for him to become her ‘go between’.
It’s very tempting to resort to clichés when we’re describing the weather. eg: cloudless blue skies at the beach, rain at a funeral, so don’t go for the obvious – try turning weather clichés on their head. A character dies? Make the sun shine! A romantic picnic at the beach? Put in a hailstorm and see how your characters react. Instead of a ghost story set on a cold foggy night, try a hot sunny day as the setting. You might have to work a bit harder to conjure up the spooky atmosphere but it will certainly be original!
Cli-Fi, I have discovered recently, is actually ‘a thing’. It stands for ‘Climate Fiction’ – literature that deals with climate change and global warming (ie:‘ecological peril’). I asked my OH what he thought Cli-Fi stood for. His first answer was ‘cliffhanger fiction’? (not bad). His other suggestion was too rude to print.
If you’re interested, the Guardian has a list of the ‘5 best climate change novels’ here and there’s a call for submissions here (closing date 30th November) for a charity anthology which is looking for original, unpublished short stories and flash fiction (250 to 3,000 words) in the cli-fi genre. All submissions should be aimed at adult readers. Selected submissions will be published in the anthology.
* Here’s the whole rhyme, in case you’d forgotten it…
Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!