Is Weather Important to Stories?

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Many of us remember Snoopy starting a book with ‘It was a dark and stormy’ night.  In fact, I’ve seen this get used as a ‘what not to do’ lesson.  I believe it’s that you never start with the weather, which is a guideline that I’ve seen broken many times.  Some of us might have heard that a conversation is dead once you bring up the weather too.  There really is a lot of rules that make weather out to be a terrible subject. This makes me wonder if weather is really important to stories.

For my stories, I use weather to help set the stage for what is about to happen.  I don’t depend on it alone for setting, but it is a piece of the world-building puzzle.  If I mention that there is snow then that can explain slow progress when walking, characters shivering, and other cold-related events.  I try not to harp on the weather, which is where I think some people go wrong.  You can only mention the storm so many times before it gets a negative reaction.  Of course, it’s much easier to use bad weather than good because that’s what can really influence things.  A nice, sunny day doesn’t really hit with a lot of impact when compared to lightning or a tornado.  Still, you can use it to show that it’s relaxing scene, so it shouldn’t be discounted outright.

Some add weather without realizing it, but I’ve met more who try to leave it out.  I understand why because people do have this weird aversion to it.  It’s surprised me how often a reader will be chugging along and then scowl because there’s a mention of it raining.  This is mostly when it starts a chapter because of the idea that you shouldn’t start with weather.  Seems that belief has become more mainstream somehow.  Authors are more likely to do this from what I can tell.  Not all of us and it could be a minority, but it’s enough that I run into fairly often.

A funny thing is that this seems to not be the case for more visual mediums like movies, comics, and television.  There are times where it feels like the opposite.  So many scenes begin with nightmarish weather and that gets the blood pumping.  Maybe people aren’t as good at imagining these things when they read it.  I know I tend to underestimate storms when I dream them up, so a real one always catches me by surprise.  The sheer power of wind and water in their various forms/levels is shocking if you aren’t faced with it fairly often.  So, there could be a mental block that authors have to get around, which is possible if you ease into it.  That means, you don’t start with the weather, but you can build up to it and then continue rising to sandwich it between the rest of the world-building.

One last thing I will mention in terms of weather in fiction is that you can shake it up by researching unique patterns.  In fantasy, I can do a lot of wild stuff with magic, but I’ve learned that there are really strange ones in reality too.  It can range from the fairly well-known ball lightning to incidents of raining fish.  You have many events that involve smog, combinations of weather, and some of the lesser used patterns.  Apparently, fire tornadoes are a thing too in some places.  Just type what you’re thinking of or wander around various sites to see if any of the real, but strange events catch your attention.  It can really liven things up and separate them from the basics that we tend to use.

So, what do you think about weather in fiction?  Is it a really minor piece of the big picture?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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25 Responses to Is Weather Important to Stories?

  1. I never really thought of the weather until now. I suppose the weather can be a super prop to increase tension or degree of difficulty. You made an interesting point about movies not having to adhere to the “Don’t start with the weather,” rule of thumb. Good post, Charles.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. V.M.Sang says:

    In my current wip, set in Viking Britain, I want to show the excitement and fun of Yule so I can contrast it with the serious Christian festival of Christmas ( it was in those days). I decided to have it snow and my characters playing like children.
    I think that the weather can help with setting a scene. But one should not explain what the weather is like ever day. That would get boring.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. L. Marie says:

    You have such great posts! Great point about not starting with the weather, but building up to it.

    I think of weather, because it helps set the atmosphere. But I’ll usually mention it in relation to the plot, like for instance, if weather prevents someone from doing something. Or, if there is an unusual storm.

    Since the weather is so changeable in my neck of the woods, it is such an integral part of the day. You might start off with a hoodie in the morning and wind up with a winter coat and boots by the afternoon. So any stories set in this area will involve a number of shifts in the weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve had a few days that start off hot or cold then switch. They’re rare though. It’s usually one or the other. Really cold these days, which makes waking up at 5:30 a challenge. Why do humans insist on rolling out of warm beds?

      Weather as an obstacle and atmosphere are probably the two safest ways to use it. Casually mentioning rain or sunlight is one thing as long as you don’t overdo it. I think you’re totally right that it should be only focused on if it’s related to the plot.

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  4. twixie13 says:

    I’ve had it come up in a few books. One is just to set the scene a bit, but the big one is as an obstacle. The obstacle comes up during the localized apocalypse, where there’re magically-generated storms happening at times. Every so often, it switches from normal rain to flesh-eating rain that’s practically indistinguishable from the normal stuff until it hits someone’s skin.

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  5. I think weather matters. It helps with a bit of scene setting. I’m thinking Antarctica vs The Sahara here. Readers need to know where we are. It’s okay to mention a drizzle, and I did in Grinders. There are other times when it is a force and must be brought into the story. I have a future one planned that’s going to involve a deluge. This scene is more to set the mood for a grim event than anything else, but it wouldn’t be the same in a sunny rose garden.

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  6. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    More great tips from Charles 👍

    Like

  7. jenanita01 says:

    Craig is right… we do need to mention the weather sometimes, scene-setting and all that…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rebecca Douglass says:

    Popped over here from TSRA. My books are set in Puget Sound, where the rain is as much a punchline as anything. I never thought of it being “wrong” to mention the rain—more that it’s part of the setting, and if I want my readers to visualize the setting, they need to know if it’s rain or shine. The characters are certainly aware of it, especially when the rain stops!

    But, then, I come from a family (farmers back a generation or so) who pretty much always start a conversation with the weather. Weather matters, if you don’t live in a city.

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    • Interesting point. Reader background could be a factor. Those who are used to weather being a common topic would accept it more than those who aren’t. I know many who see it as a topic you broach when you’re out of things to say.

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  9. Lindsey Russell says:

    As long as you stick to your own ‘world rules’ you can get away with almost anything in fantasy.
    With ‘straight’ fiction you need to be a little more careful, but as you mentioned there are unique patterns – or perhaps the more flexible ‘freak occurrences’ (I can remember back in 1972 snow fell on several hills in Surrey in June and nowhere else, and then there was the ‘great storm’ of 1987).
    I tend to be a bit casual with using weather. I mentioned one character not being able to burn evidence on a bonfire because it had rained for a week and he had no working fireplace. Then a few weeks later I had two characters sitting in the shade because it was a scorching hot day. I won’t say I never go into any detail but such instances are rare and need to be more iintrinsic to the story than backdrop :).

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    • World rules are definitely important. I’d say know your general weather patterns of an area for reality-based fiction too. As you said, there are freak events, so maybe researching a bit wouldn’t hurt. It can give an author some ideas, but it would depend entirely on the type of story.

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  10. I think weather is really useful! 1) It does set the scene and mood, as you mentioned. 2) In world-building, if your tale is set in a real place, than the weather can be a detail that verifies your location. 3) Weather can create obstacles to whatever the character has planned.

    You can even get more than one effect simultaneously with weather. For example, it rains heavily, setting a mood of depression. Then you mention a specific bridge or road being flooded by the rain. And finally, your characters need to go somewhere, and they can’t because of the flooding.

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