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Laurie Stevens asks Do You Write Weather?

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRae series. You can find out more about her here, buy her books here, and read her last post here.

As I write this, thunder rolls through a warm night. For some of you, this is no big deal. For a Southern California native like me, it’s unusual. It brings to mind the wet thickness of a summer night in Louisiana (I’m a fan of New Orleans). The sky usually doesn’t talk like this where I live, and I like it, so I have to pay homage in this blog to the climate.

 I’m a big proponent of using weather as a character in my work. Usually, it reflects the emotions of the character or a particular action. Think of the shrouds of fog in the books of Charles Dickens or L. Frank Baum’s frightful, magical tornado (weren’t we all swept away when that thing hit?)

In The Shining, Stephen King took something as pure as snow and created a prison out of it. Not only did the snow provide a physical barrier to safety, but it delivered all kinds of subliminal messages: the frigidity of the Torrance couple’s marriage, a hotel frozen in evil. Pardon me, but as I read the book (and watched the movie) I couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that I would eventually see red blood drops on virgin white snow, a very powerful image.

I’d like to share an excerpt from Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God as she describes a hurricane.

“He saw that the wind and water had given life to lots of things folks think of as dead, and given death to so much that had been living things. Water everywhere. Stray fish swimming in the yard. Three inches more and the water would be in the house.”

As authors, we’re not pinned down to one type of characterization for a particular weather condition. Hurricanes can also symbolize wisdom due to the large eye of the storm that ‘looks out over everyone’ or we can use a hurricane to represent invincibility and indestructibility. Whatever your angle, the use of weather will make an effective reflection of the emotional atmosphere of your characters.

Pathetic Fallacy is a literary device in which human emotions are attributed to animals, inanimate objects, and aspects of nature, such as the weather. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, makes good use of Pathetic Fallacy. Think about it. How often does Cathy mention those bleak Yorkshire Moors, especially as she weakens physically? Savage thunderstorms go hand-in-hand with Heathcliff’s fiery anger.

I give weather as much character as my fictionalized humans. The warm Santa Ana winds not only advance a fire in The Dark Before Dawn, but represent the aridity of soul Detective Gabriel McRay assigns to his life. In the book In Twilight’s Hush, Gabriel is trounced by the words of a psychic. Here’s how I describe one of their conversations that takes place at sunset:

“The sky glowed orange and pink behind her brown hair, which made the young woman appear otherworldly… “What’s expensive?” Carmen asked as the sky bled scarlet around the halo of her curls.”

It was a dark and stormy night. Bleh. Place the psychological dark and the emotional storm of the characters against a like-minded climate and you’ve got a real setting. Do you make use of weather? What’s your favorite type to write about?

Laurie Stevens

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. Laurie lives in the setting of her books, the hills outside of Los Angeles with her husband, two snakes, and a cat. You can find out more about her on her website, lauriestevensbooks.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan

    Laurie — I love that you “give weather as much character as my fictionalized humans.”

  2. I love the excerpts you’ve used to demonstrate the use of weather, Laurie. I also love to use weather as a character in my books, and believe me, Colorado–the setting for my Timber Creek K-9 series–gives me lots of opportunities: wind, rain, ice, snow, and drought with the advent of forest fires. Bring it on! It’s a great way to challenge our characters. Thanks for this interesting post!

  3. Christine DeSmet

    Great post! We cozy-mystery authors do things a bit differently. Less blood on the snow and more fluffy snow fun and finding lost puppies and kittens in the rain and such. But we definitely use weather as a character, as the final act and dangerous climax of my latest novel proves that and depended on it. Some scenes can’t happen without the weather and the entire setting becoming a character. I believe the Pulitzer-winning LONESOME DOVE is a classic example of setting as character.

  4. saralynrichard

    A wonderful topic. Thanks for explaining the pathetic fallacy. Having lived through several hurricanes, I have an arsenal of images to describe them, but they are not my favorite type of weather to write about.

  5. joyribar

    Great post, Laurie and I appreciate learning about “Pathetic Fallacy”, a term I have not encountered until now. I love to use weather in my setting as all of my cozies are placed in a different Wisconsin season. a very weather-dependent state. My weather shows up to contribute to the atmosphere and mood, but also has played a role. An ice storm changes the plans of characters in my first book, for instance. Nice piece!

    1. Laurie's Story

      Ah, Wisconsin! The winters sure have a lot of character there!

  6. Jacqueline Vick

    The first time I ran into the weather as a character was “The Nine Tailors” by Dorothy Sayers. I still shiver when I think of the loneliness of houses scattered across the snow-covered fens. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Sherrill Joseph

    Thanks, Laurie, for the great post. I’m a visual learner, so weather frequently becomes a character in all my cozy kids’ mysteries. My Eucalyptus Street begins with, “A tremendous thunderclap propelled thirteen-year-old Lanny Wyatt right off the plush living room sofa. . . . This was the kind of night anything could happen.” What fun! Like you, I’m a native Southern Californian who gets mesmerized by thunder and lightning storms. They conjure up leaf-strewn October nights and the approach of Halloween. And weather is one element that keeps me coming back to Wuthering Heights, a favorite novel. Even the house’s name implies weather. Thanks for including it and explaining Pathetic Fallacy, a new term for me.

  8. Sheila Lowe

    Excellent reminder that “a dark and stormy night” is so much more. It’s easy to just tell what the weather is, but to give it character takes a real writer, as in the quotes you shared. And yes, wasn’t that lightning last week spectacular!

  9. Tim Chapman

    I’ve used weather as a way to initiate action. Your post has given me some ideas for other ways to use it. Thank you!

    1. Laurie's Story

      You are quite welcome! In fiction, we do have control over the weather!

  10. Sharon Lynn

    Great post, Laurie! I love for weather to be symbolic of the character’s mood. I had great fun putting my MC in a massive downpour then having her shoes squeak the rest of the day.

  11. Laurie Story

    It’s the details that make a story shine- I love that you have her shoes squeak!

  12. Tracey Phillips

    Laurie thanks for this beautiful reminder that sometimes a storm is just a storm. Or a “dark and stormy night.” And that we writers can bring those images to life with so much more feeling. Your examples are perfect. Here’s another:

    I loved Bad Axe County by John Galligan. His use of springtime weather in Wisconsin, a blizzard, turning to an ice storm, melting then freezing again followed his characters emotions and propelled the plot with fantastic force.

  13. Laurie Story

    That’s also a great example of using weather (and I like the title)

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