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?