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