Thursday, 1 March 2012

Singin' In The Rain - Charley R's Guide to Weather Patterns

Perhaps I’m not a great one to talk about this, living as I do on an island famed for damp, fog, torrents of rain and the constant smell of wet sheep, but I dare anyone to tell me it’s not worth talking about. If setting is a crucial part of the story, then there can be few things more crucial to a setting than – you guessed it – the mood of good ol’ Mother Nature.

I’m fond of watching a good movie now and again, and one trend that I notice again and again is the use of atmospheric weather, especially at the start of the film, and during key plot moments. It just wouldn’t be as creepy watching the Nazgul stalking through the Shire on the backs of their daemonic horses if they were prancing through fields full of songbirds in the blazing sun, would it?

It’s the same principle in writing. Weather’s a fantastic scene setter, and a wonderful vehicle to tell the readers more about where your story is going to take place. This is all too true in fantasy, especially, as the worlds are usually the author’s own creation, and the read knows only what they can see on a map. Unfortunately, like all forms of great power (don’t you just love being able to turn on the storm clouds whenever you want?) it also comes with a great responsibility … to do it properly!

My younger self was horribly guilt of abusing this power - yet another reason why current me finds reading her old stories so utterly cringe-inducing. Seriously, I must have had some whacked out microclimates going on to have a snowstorm blow in on a day I’d previously described as “glorious midsummer”.

So, without further ado, here are some little tips from me on how to – quite literally – control the weather:

1) Confounded Wet Map! – Where Are We Again?
Maps and weather patterns go hand in glove – and having one will usually lead to the indispensability of the other. For the rewrite of my Aeserion Trilogy, I’m working out a sensible sketch where I can see all the key elements without overcomplicating it and confusing myself – things like mountain ranges, flat plains, forests, deserts, major cities and other geographical landmarks. Not only does it make drawing a route easier, but I can know for a fact that, when walking home at midnight in late autumn, odds we’re going to get wet if you live in the north. Sorry Rin!

2) Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjoes! – Rowing One’s Boat Down the River.
Believe it or not, those boring Geography lessons you had on rivers in Year Six are, in fact, going to come in useful. Rivers and lakes tend to run in distinctive patterns and move differently according to the location. The issue of source and endpoint is also one to keep an eye on – having a random river reaching only from one side of your plateau for the other is a pretty good indication that the weather gods have got tipsy on the ambrosia again.

If your plot involves a long journey, odds are your travellers are going to spend a good deal of time following rivers because of their use as a directional aid and – critically – source of drinking water. Placement of cities and livelihoods of some towns will also be affected by this, so I’d seriously recommend brushing up before “jumping in the deep end”, as it were.

3) Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Anyone Here got Vertigo?
Anyone who’s ever been skiing in a high-altitude mountain range will know about the effect their height has on the weather in the surrounding area. Mountainous areas tend to be mistier and damper, while areas beyond will, subsequently, be dryer than an area without the barrier of the mountains. Weather also changes fast the higher up you go – remind your intrepid climber to pack a wooly scarf just in case! And remember, snow won’t necessarily be on the peaks all year round. Learn from Disney’s mistakes!

4) The Weather for Today: Cloudy, With a Chance of Flying Platypi.
Call me over-organised, but I’ve already drawn up a document to help me keep track of the weather through the course of my Aeserion Trilogy. Clouds and sunny spots tend to move in patterns – watch your evening news for the proof – so I found that pinning down exactly what it had been like allowed me not only to keep it realistically consistent, but also gave me leeway to build up towards either a sunny day or a burst of heavy rain or storm, rather than just having the event appear out of the blue. If you know you want a torrential rainstorm on the day of your MC’s sister’s wedding, then – like bridezilla herself – you’ve got to do the preparation!

5) Nooooooooo! – Cue the Waterworks.
It’s tempting, isn’t it? You’ve just executed a brilliantly heartbreaking scene, and you want to make sure everybody knows how sad it is. So, what’s the best way to let the world know that today is a sad day? Turn on the rainstorm, of course!

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it right there, tiger. Have you not read these past few points? Like everything in a good novel, there’s no use in doing something like that unless it’s for more than just a personal desire for aesthetic effect. The scene should be sad enough to have the audience sobbing in its own right, and if it isn’t, then whipping out the awful cliché of supporting weather is only going to have a detrimental effect on your story. While the weather is a good way to set a mood, it should be the event, and the way you’ve written it, that really gets through to the reader. Save the rainstorm for the Ark.

Hopefully these tips will be of use to some of you – I certainly wish I’d had the thought processes to do half the things I talk about up here in my younger years. And, as an extra help to you all, I’ve put a link to each of these “Guide” posts over on the right in the side bar under “Charley’s Writerly Guides”. Make use of them as much or as little as you like, but I do hope that, even if you don’t like them particularly, you can bring yourself to read them just to see that I know how to correctly use the plural of “platypus”, haha!

- Charley R


  1. HAY! I was trying to post a comment when you refreshed that! :P

    Okay I'll recreate it after I finished reading this (psst make use of the preview button before posting he he he)

    :} Cathryn

  2. Point 1 - *giggles*

    Point 2 - OMG YOU know that references too? *giggle fits*

    Point 2 - If your mountains are high enough there will be snow year roung... There's also a thing called the tree line, where above that lines trees don't grow. Scrub brush, but not trees. this line varies from place to place...

    Point 4 - I'm soo going to have to do that too! Sweet tip.

    Point 5 - Besides setting the heartbreaking scene on a glorious spring day could be a cool ironic counter point. ;}

    Of course I bend the rules in my Pheonix Trilogy, but there are active Gods and Mages who have some control over the weather. That started in Book 1, but only at Wholawski's camp. And I wonder when you were reading Sarha's Phoenix did you notice it didn't rain once? Not Once! The book spans a time frame of 4 months from March to June... Yikes! Needless to say I'll be fixing that.

    *giggles and grins*
    :} Cath-r-yn
    (just so it has enough sylables to work as well as Elorithryn does...) {:

    1. Of course, of course, it all depends on the height of your mountain - I'm simply pointing out that not all mountains are high enough or in climates cold enough to warrant that. The Alps and Pyrenees are mountain ranges in Europe, but they very rarely have snow all year around, for example .Thanks for the tip about the treeline though!

      As for Point Five ... do you seek to tempt me? *cackles*

      Errr ... ah, it's been so long since I read SP that I can't remember. LOL there's a nice little plot hole for you xD

  3. Love the points, Charley! After my first world had a tundra on the equator and deserts at the poles... I reworked things majorly for Quartorlen. And weather actually plays a fairly prominent role in Thunderfell, since it's almost always raining there. Or misting. :)

    My favorite place to put rain is actually during a fight. Or better yet, just put the fight in the middle of a ford.

    Gotta say, I love your point titles! *Salute*


    And make sure to have puddles after the rain! :)

    1. And imagine my delight, when, during my poking around in the dusty rooms of your "Tower of Plot," I find that you not only like Within Temptation, but Nightwish, Blind Guardian, and Two Steps from Hell!! Awesomeness! I'll have to write a post on how I was first introduced to the world of European rock!

    2. You, dear sir, have just earned fifty billion Epic Points. Those bands literally make my life, and words cannot describe how happy I am to find someone else who likes them too! If you do ever write such a post, I will vault onto it like a ... like a ... well, you'll see, hee hee!

      Aaaaah, rain in battle scenes, my favourites! Puddles are way too much fun as well - I'm a total puddle afficionado. Being in Britain feeds that addiction nicely, hee hee! I'm very glad you enjoyed the post :)

  4. Why do you keep writing blog posts that are so full of CONTENT and MEANING that the rest of, struggling to think of anything to say and reverting to blog awards, feel bad? Grrrr!

    No, but seriously, lovely post :)

    I don't know if you remember a while back I posted something in 'Remembrances' on Protagonize, called, "I associate rain with death". That is why, for me, it rained when Jennie died. I didn't do it because it would have a literary effect, although I think it helped. It's because I wrote that scene less than a week after my grandad died, and it was the only thing that made sense.

    (On the other hand, it's pretty sunny when Alex dies, I think. Yay.)

    1. Hehehe, what can I say, I'm just brimming with content and meaning ;)

      Very glad you like the post. And I do not mean in any way to bash on people who use weather to create emotion in that way. If it's plausible, possible and, yeah, it probaly fits well with the scene, go for it.

      In this post, I'm simply referring to people who do it on a whim, because they think it would be fitting, even though it is glaringly out of place - like having a sudden rainstorm on a day when there has been no previous sign of rain, then BAM CHARACTER DEATH CUE THE RAINSTORM!
      That sort of thing. It irritates me. Just a bit. Hee hee :3.

  5. This was a great post! I'm always careful of the cliche of a sad rainy day, which is probably at least part of the reason why a very happy day in the first draft of The Sandcastle's Way is a rainy day. Since I like a good rainy day myself, it wasn't hard to make the scene cheerful. ;)

    I don't write fantasy, but it's a good point to make - if you're going to create a whole new world, it should probably have realistic weather patterns that correspond with the landscape!. ;) Great tips!

    1. I LOVE rainy days too! Unfortunately, my protagonists don't ... I think I make them go travelling in them a bit too much, bahaha!

      Thanks very much - I'm glad you enjoy them :)

    2. I know, rainy days are the best! It's always nice to be snuggled up inside while rain pounds against the windows. *sigh* And sometimes it's fun to dance in the rain, too! A year or two ago, I had a birthday party in the pavilion of a local pond. Only an hour or two into the party, it started to downpour! The lifeguards wouldn't let us in the water, but we had a lot of fun running around in the rain anyway. ;) I can understand your protagonists' dislike for it, though. I supposed when you spend that much time traveling in damp and uncomfortable conditions, it takes some of the fun out of it. ;)

    3. Best lake party EVER! Gosh I wish I could do that - I love rain. Going for walks in it is the best - really good for inspiration too!
      Or is that just me being weird? xP

      Hehe, fair do's to them indeed .... I guess they don't share our love of wet weather, eh? ;)

    4. Nah, I totally get what you mean. Taking walks in the rain can be quite nice! And sometimes, just getting your clothes soaked is epically fun. ;) Rain is awesome.

    5. You speak the truth, and more besides :)