Episode 128: A Dark and Stormy Night

On January 9th, Kasie and Rex took on the weather in fiction. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

A Dark and Stormy Night: Weather in fiction

Agenda

  • Events & Opportunities
  • Weather: nouns, adjectives, and verbs
  • Pathetic fallacy and other super judgy things
Weather! How does it smell, feel, sound, and taste?
Photo by Nico Becker on Pexels.com

Segment 1

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On February 4th, 2021 at 1:00 PM, SCWA Columbia II chapter member Dr. Walter Curry will be a featured guest on BlogTalkRadio show Research at the National Archives and Beyond hosted by Bernice Bennett. The topic of discussion is “Incorporating  Narrative Inquiry to Research Family History”. Click here to learn more and listen to the show.

In this week’s SCWA critique group, some feedback I received was that the passage I read was heavy on details that could be seen. But what could be heard? Smelled? Felt? Tasted? It’s a kindergarten exercise to work all five senses in description but sometimes when we’re revising we strike too many details and leave only those of a single sense behind.

So, it’s raining in the scene I read and I started working on what does that sound, smell, feel, taste like?

When we write weather, we have a number of ways to include details. What’s more, the weather can provide a specific mood for a scene, a call to action of some kind, or a barrier. So today we’re going to talk about the various uses of weather in writing – primarily fiction, but maybe some non and poetry too.

This blogger says ignoring the weather just isn’t an option. But I’m sure I don’t know the weather in about 90% of my first drafts unless the weather plays a role in the story.

The same writer suggests cliches are the biggest danger when including weather in our stories and I’d tend to agree with that. 

What’s the hardest part or biggest challenge when including weather in the story?

Segment 2

How can you use weather in your story?

  • As part of the scenery — freezing, scorching, foggy, clear for miles
  • As a character demonstration — joyous in gloom, shaking off rain, or mopey and put-out by a storm
  • As a plot device — spoil an outdoor event, create hazardous conditions, force someone to have to work or have to stay home
  • As the plot itself — man versus nature
  • As a symbol — ominous clouds, a storm moving in as a character’s mood escalates from concerned to worried to scared (think And the Thunder Rolls by Garth Brooks)

Do you have to experience the weather to write a realistic account of it?

How do you pay attention to weather details?

  • Equipment — a jacket, an umbrella
  • Activity — go out and get the mail, take a pet out, drive around
  • Comfort — too cold, too hot, wet, dry
  • Impact — able to do something like attend a game or a concert; prevented from doing something like a cancellation or a postponement
  • Mood — makes us feel happy, sad, worried, frustrated
  • Nostalgia — the smell of the fall, the sounds of summer, specific memories associated with weather (snow days)

Also, how have I not ever made Brian experience an earthquake? He’s in California. ::facepalm::

This resource talks about writing while experiencing weather. I would add to its discussion that writing while you’re in the weather can be a way of metabolizing it: i.e. the fear and worry of a hurricane’s battering winds and rain.

Segment 3

Let’s visit for a minute the pathetic fallacy which is treating objects as if they had human characteristics and it’s a frequent occurrence in weather descriptions. (this link) So the wind howled, a cloud weeps, a fire rages, a storm brews.

How is this different from personification? Well, it’s not. Not really.

It comes from the author and literary critic John Ruskin who used it to criticize Victorian-era poets like Eliot for being so overcome with emotion that their view of the world is distorted, imbuing inanimate objects with people characteristics (this link). Here’s the wikipedia listing of the way the idea came about.

So let’s walk through the senses and tackle this from that approach:

Sight — What do we see in the 

  • Winter : Bare trees, dry dormant grass, gray skies, holiday decorations, ice or frozen water, leftover snow. 
  • Spring: Buds on trees, new green growth in the grass, new flowers poking through dirt, thick mud from melted snow, birds’ nests. 
  • Summer: dandelions, bugs, heat mirages on pavement, vivid green leaves, panting dogs, beaches, swimming pools
  • Fall: changing leaves, burning leaves, school buses, kids at bus stops, football fields and players, firepits and fireplaces, haunted trails and Halloween advertising

Sound — What do we hear in the

  • Winter: crackling fires, dry leaves crushed underfoot, scraping sound of shovels on sidewalks, crunch of boots on salted sidewalks
  • Spring: slurping of mud on boots, splash of puddles, tweets of birds, rustle of breezes through new leaves, barking dogs in yards, allergy sneezes
  • Summer: splash of pools, high-pitched shouts of children running and playing, thump of soccer balls being kicked, whizz of a golf swing, clink of the club on the ball, burr of a lawnmower, zzzzz of the weed wacker
  • Fall: roar of school buses picking up speed, public announcement systems on sports fields, shush of fall breezes scraping leaves along the sidewalk, honks of migrating geese overhead

Touch — What do we feel in the

  • Winter: chill, cold, ice, wet, warm sweaters, fireplace heat
  • Spring: pollen, sunlight, rain, breezes, line-dried cotton, new fur on puppies and kittens
  • Summer: humidity, summer storms, thick/stillness, heat, damp swimsuits and towels, sticky fingers from popsicles and fruit
  • Fall: cool shade, crisp leaves, frost on the grass, chilly mornings, cooler evenings, fuzzy socks

Smell — What do we smell in the

  • Winter: snow, fireplaces, hot cocoa, pine, scented candles, baked goods
  • Spring: grass, flowers, puppies, dirt or earth, fertilizer, rain
  • Summer: dampness or mildew, sweet fruits and juices, honeysuckle, ocean, sizzling grilled hotdogs and burgers
  • Fall: chili and hearty stews, outdoor fires, burning leaves, turkey and other holiday meal scents, pumpkin and coffee

Taste — What do we taste in the

  • Winter: crisp air, ice, warm beverages like tea, coffee, and hot toddies, 
  • Spring: water, greens, Easter candy, Easter ham, eggs, margarita
  • Summer: summer vegetables picked and grilled, fruity cocktails, peaches, watermelon, strawberries, grilled meat, campfire flavors, picnics
  • Fall: smores and other fire-side treats, thick and hearty stews, snackfoods for tailgating, holiday meals and ciders 

How much of those details are just instinct? 

How many details do you borrow from real places and times you’ve been in?

How many of these details are your trust go-tos instead of being fresh or new in each story?

Segment 4

  • So how do you do it?
  • Avoid cliches (duh)
  • Don’t ignore it. Include it just to see if the details fit.
  • You can tell it — “When Mary left, it was raining.” 
  • You can show it — “As Mary left, the rain splattered the sidewalk.”
  • You can show its effect — “Mary left in a splash of puddles like cymbals on the sidewalk.”
  • Include it in a small fact
  • Include it in a lengthy metaphor

Here’s a Master List divided by category
And here’s 160 ways to do it (or a few samples) — all lifted from other writers, so use them as inspiration only.

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