It was a Dark and Stormy Night. . .

Those of us in the Northeast are bracing right now for the “storm of the century” (yep, another one), and thinking about that old saw on New England Weather, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.  Me, I am afraid of losing power, especially in the midst of such a productive writing period.  I’m doing my blog a little early, in case I can’t do it later.

Weather is one of those things that is important in the lives of many, and yet writers tend to hit the extremes:  either we ignore it completely, because it’s not inherently interesting, or we transform it into Prospero’s tempest, a whirling monster created of our will to drive plot events the direction we want them to go.

It’s time to take a more balanced approach.  We must move beyond either the cliched foreboding of wind and rain, or the utter blankness of an ordinary day, and allow the weather into our worlds in a coherent, believable way. Some authors, like Tony Hillerman, are accused of delivering weather reports at the start of every scene. It’s nice to show the weather, but not in a scripted fashion. It should be allowed to influence action and to establish mood, but perhaps in ways more subtle than a thunderclap. I am aware that I fall victim to this myself, giving my historical London somewhat less drizzle than it was likely to have.  However, I am striving to do better.

I am also informed by the historical experience of soldiers during the first World War, who often had to fight the mud as well as the enemy.  That’s the kind of gritty, real-world experience that I want my characters to undergo, and I think my reader can invest in.  Fictional weather should be allowed all of the breadth it possesses in our own lives:  a sunny break can lift spirits, even if you’re travelling to Mount Doom, a dreary Autumn can dictate fashion choices for the ladies of court.  And I’m willing to permit the occasional thunderstorm or blistering drought that enhances the characters’ predicament

However, as fantasy writers, we sometimes have the ability to manipulate the weather more directly through magic and other arcane influences. One of my favorites is Douglas Adams’s hapless rain god character, Rob McKenna, in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish who can prove that it’s rained on him every day of his life.  Eventually, he makes a good living being paid by resorts to stay away.  Weather magic, applied for humorous effect. There are a number of works about magical control over the weather, and I wonder if fantasy writers indulge in a little wish-fulfillment when they give someone this power we all so often long for.

Next time you enter a scene, consider the weather.  What sort of weather is likely in your place and time?  What sort would make the scene more rich and can it be used judiciously instead of becoming overbearing?  Finally, if your characters have any influence over the weather, when and why do they choose to apply it–and what consequences does that have for others?

Let me conclude with another of my favorite weather quotes, “Everybody’s always talking about the weather–but nobody ever does anything about it!”  One cool thing about fiction, and fantasy, is that we can.

About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
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