Keeping A Weather Diary

Phew, it’s sweltering!

I have removed myself from the boiling hot house (where Him Indoors is playing music as loudly as a teenager), to my boiling hot ‘cave’ (I wish it were that cool!), which hasn’t had much ventilation for the past week and is … well GREENHOUSE HOT!

Excuse me while I just wipe the sweat from my top lip and the back of my neck.

Do you include the weather when you write fiction? It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.

With short stories, I think you can get away without mentioning the weather unless it’s relevant to the story. But when you’re writing something longer – a serial or a novel – it would seem strange not to mention the weather whenever your characters are outside. It’s part of the setting and ‘world building’ of your novel, after all and the weather can have an impact on your characters’ mood and behaviour, it can add conflict to a story (storms, floods, snowdrifts..) you can use it to foreshadow events or illuminate themes.

But I think it needs to be done with a light touch. And it’s easy to lapse into cliché when it comes to describing weather. (Ooh, it’s suddenly gone really windy out there! Lovely cool breeze! Leaves and dust are swirling around outside and the sky’s going grey!)

A while ago I read some advice on-line for writers, about keeping a ‘weather diary’. Nothing too fancy or arduous: just write a few lines describing the weather each day (and don’t forget to add the date). If you need, say, to include a foggy day, or a windy afternoon in your writing at some point or you can’t remember what the weather’s like in April, you can refer to your diary and it might help with some details that you could otherwise have forgotten.

Now might be a good time to write something about the experience of living through a heatwave, of course (and thunderstorms!). And you might want to include more than just a physical description of the sun. What about the sweat on your skin, that I mentioned above, the difficulty in sleeping, the tips on daytime TV for combatting the heat eg: fill a hot water bottle with iced water; dogs having to be rescued from overheating cars, the lethargy, the extra effort it takes to do anything… ? You get the idea.

Funnily enough, a lot of my favourite novels are set during heatwaves: The Great Gatsby, The Go-Between, Atonement, The Trouble With Goats & Sheep.

People often behave strangely in extreme weather conditions, which is probably why novelists are drawn to them. In a heatwave, clothes and inhibitions are removed, rules change, tempers are short (having experienced a lovely bit of road rage yesterday, I can vouch for that) and your characters might interact more than they would in winter, when everyone’s enclosed in their homes.

Hmm, I think there might be a storm coming. Him Indoors has abandoned his head-banging music and is getting the washing in off the line!

Shall I go back to the house before the storm hits or stay here, pen poised…?

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7 Responses to Keeping A Weather Diary

  1. I always end up going back through my novels somewhere in the second or third draft to sort out the timeline and make sure the weather’s plausible! I’ve never kept a weather diary, but I do take a lot of photographs, and sometimes look back through them for a visual reminder of what August (or winter, or Easter…) looks like, which can in turn release a memory of what it feels like.

    • Thanks, Kathleen. I like the idea of taking photos of the weather too and yes, I was thinking of doing the same as you with my novel (if I ever get to that stage!!) of putting in the references to weather in one of the later drafts.

  2. Eirin Thompson says:

    Keeping a weather diary sounds like a great idea, as it’s not always possible to write during the season when your work is set. I love reading/viewing stories where the weather is almost like an additional character, and weather is a wonderful way of building atmosphere. A couple of years ago, I re-watched Rear Window for research for a piece of work, and for sultry, claustrophobic weather it could scarcely be beaten – would strongly recommend for a thrilling summer watch (no matter how many times you’ve seen it before).

    • Helen Yendall says:

      Thanks Eirin. I have NEVER seen ‘Rear Window’ (I know! Where have I been?!) but it sounds like I’m missing out. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Ooh, I love the idea of a weather diary. I have just jotted down some thoughts on today’s weather to start. It fits nicely with my new resolution to take an early-morning walk every day, too. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Kate Hogan says:

    I love using weather in my stories. Writing of the sense of the external elements always seems to trigger something for me. Though I’ve never kept a weather diary, maybe I’ll start. Thanks, Helen. Good wishes Kate Hogan,

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