Everyone Talks about the Weather

We’ve had a stretch of hot temperatures lately, which has me thinking about how writers can use weather in their work. Let’s say a narrative takes place during a time of extreme heat, cold, rain, drought, etc. What might that weather do for the story at hand, and what should the writer be aware of as they tell the tale?

Weather can create atmosphere. Heat might lead to malaise, cold might create a frostiness between characters, excessive rain might turn one’s thoughts to what’s leaking into or out of a relationship, drought might ask what’s lacking between the characters or what’s dying. Another way of thinking about the backdrop weather provides is to consider the opposite of what we might expect. Heat might set a character or a set of characters on edge to the point of always wanting to be active. Cold weather might lead to a desire to hibernate. Constant rain might make a character take steps to create a sunny atmosphere in an indoor space. Drought might lead to a feeling of being insatiable.

No matter the weather and how we decide to use it when it comes to our characters, we should always keep in mind that the characters’ actions should be in response to climate extremes, which is to say we should never use the weather to provide resolution. The characters’ actions should perform that role. So, no blizzards, floods, tornadoes, etc. that enter at a critical point unless their entry leads characters to their final choices.

We might also think about what our characters carry with them—what troubles, doubts, thoughts, fears, desires—that come to the surface because of the weather. In other words, what have our characters suppressed that can no longer stay hidden? How does the weather give the characters a reason to act on what they’ve been carrying?

Today’s writing prompt, then, asks you to create two characters. Don’t think too long about this. Write down two names, give the characters a history with each other, think about what might be at issue for them, give the setting an extreme weather event, see what one of your characters might do in response to the weather, consider what problem that action might create, follow a sequence of causally connected scenes to a climactic moment where the main character has to make a final choice that will change things forever. Somewhere along the line, you can think about how the weather is becoming a metaphor for the characters and the worlds they occupy.

You know the old saying, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Well, writers can indeed do something about it. We can use weather to lead our characters to actions that will have significant consequences. We can make it rain when we want it to, we can turn up the heat or turn it down, we can let the parched land crack and come apart. We can make weather a part of the landscape, both physical and emotional, our characters are trying to navigate.

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