On Writing: Weather or Not

Cold, warm. Cold, warm. I wish the weather would make up its mind.

Right now, it’s distinctly chilly, coming off cold and damp. Not that the wisteria cares.

Wisteria verticality

Weather’s an interesting atmospheric element that doesn’t always get full billing in stories. Which is a shame, given its effect on people, and thus on plausible characters. Bright sunny day? No matter how bad the rest of the situation is, getting some sunlight will generally make people feel a bit better. Rain and overcast for a week? Cue everyone’s nerves slowly tightening like piano wire… and if the situation already had folks at the end of their ropes, one more cloudy sky could have potentially drastic results.

I have to admit, though, I find it hard to work weather into a story, at least for more than passing atmospherics. This may be due to living in places where, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes,” is a common saying. If the sky can open up with a deluge and all you do is look at your watch, because you can estimate there’ll probably be a rainless or at most misting break in less than half an hour… weather doesn’t seem permanent enough to register as a world element, sometimes.

I do want to try and work it in more, though. I suspect it might take planning. Of the “try to track down weather records of a similar location for a year” detail, so that if it’s raining on the characters on Monday it’s not snowing on Friday.

…Unless that would fit the setting and time.  😉 March is always cranky that way!

Anyone else spot an interesting use of weather in fiction recently?  🙂

30 thoughts on “On Writing: Weather or Not

  1. Never really spotted weather in fics unless it had an impact (ie: rain during combat)…. But now you make me want to read a fic about a badass meteorologist. 😝

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      1. Not exactly the same, but I once encountered a series about people with literal weather magic. Possibly written by a meteorologist, now that I think about it. Not a bad story, but the terminology was fairly dense.

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      1. Hurricane hunter by day, demon hunter by night? *shoos bunny off*

        On a slightly more serious note, what do hurricane and tornado hunters do in the off season? Besides research, research, research.

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  2. Droughts. My neck of the woods has unpredictable weather, but droughts can still be a thing.

    Story about a story involving weather. A man was doing a military alternate history, detailed down to simulating the staffwork that would have needed to have been done at each stage. The cleft point was someone preparing a contingency plan that wasn’t made historically, that could have plausibly been made historically. It comes time to judge how the operation, very sensitive to weather, would have worked out. He orders detailed meteorological records of the time and place, and they are too perfect. Nobody would believe it. He decides he could adjust for that by discussing more heavily all the other sorts of SNAFUs that can happen.

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  3. As far as the weather making up it’s mind and the ‘wait five minutes’ thing… I very much sympathise and agree. Snow in the morning yesterday. Wait a couple hours, chilly but no snow. Snow again this morning. Let’s see how long it lasts.

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  4. The weather has been weird this “winter” in So-Cal. We’ve had no rain and then all of a sudden it finally feels like what passes for winter here in March… While the whether is pretty consistent over the course of a day here, the weather in any given season is pretty schizophrenic. Unless it’s summer/fall. Then it’s just hot, hot, hot (with low humidity, thank goodness!).

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  5. The only recent use of weather in fiction that I remember was one where it was artificial (and purely for theatrics). An omake in a Naruto fanfic, where the 3rd Hokage was roped into a dramatic retelling of some history, so he used some of the thousands of techniques he knew to create a variety of dramatic effects (including wind and rain, despite them being indoors at the time).

    As to non-fiction weather, you brought up the point of “just wait 5 minutes”, but on the other end there’s “you can set your clock by it”. When I lived in Guatemala, we were ~8000′ up in the mountains, on the downhill-inland side of the coastal mountain range. During the rainy season, it was pretty consistent “it’ll rain every day at around 1305, give or take 5 minutes”, and during the dry season it was “it’ll at least sprinkle every other day at around 1300, give or take a half hour”. Times when that didn’t happen were when we knew something was up (such as the small volcano on the other side of the mountains releasing a lot of smoke and ash, and causing the rain to happen further up the mountain so there wasn’t much available to reach us).

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      1. Eh. As long as you didn’t climb down near it, Santiaguito was fine. Regular outpouring of ash and smoke, which traveled a fair distance, but the mudflows and poison gases were only a problem if you were stupid enough to climb near the vent (mostly tourists, in other words), and it was on the far side of Santa Maria (an extinct volcano) so everything would have gone towards the coast (away from us) if it had really decided to let loose. Siete Orejas (which our house was on the side of) hasn’t done anything in a long time, tho on the coastal side it had plenty of hot springs/mineral springs. The risky one was Cerro Quemado, which last erupted 200 years ago (tho it blew its side off when it did that, including chunks of stone as large as our house which landed near what would later become the main road at the end of our driveway).

        Anyway, further thinking on weather in fiction reminds me that Heinlein used it a lot. Usually minor things, but either significant ways of showing “this person has survival skills”, or of providing minor but significant danger to the characters. And one example of just plain awesome. Red Planet is full of minor examples, some of which are key plot points, and are used for a variety of purposes (danger when the main character is making a solo trip, the key trigger for the conflict between the backwoods colonists and the corporate bosses in the main colony, etc). The case of “awesome”, however, was a short story, where “elementalists” (the people who control the life support equipment in the giant lunar dome and cave colonies) use their weather control equipment to literally play music with the weather, where the weather is the instruments (wind, rain, thunder and lightning, hail, etc, all being controlled so that it makes music and a lightshow).

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  6. the most recent mention of weather in fanfic i remember, was for atmospheric purpose- a ‘Rosario Vampire’ fic, and that fandom is about a high school for monsters, that looks like a gothic cathedral, with magically permenantly overcast sky to give a spooky atmosphere…

    as for rain-sometimes rain improves the mood , rather then wrecking nerves-especially after a too long and dry summer, or a too hot day.

    The smell after it just rained, of freshness all around-is one I personally find uplifting.

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    1. When I had ant problems, they didn’t all die until I got one of those ant “carry it back to the nest” liquid poison boxes. There’s a tab doohickey that you pull out, and then it smells good to the ants and they can get into it and out again. Within 48 hours, nothing but dead ants. (Most of which died outside of my area, although a fair number of them decided to stick with the poison. Ew.)

      However, I didn’t have any pets or kids to worry about.

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    2. We finally had to buy that foundation spray stuff– stopped them dead. If you can trace back to where they’re coming from, you can even use a little inside. (Very little, very careful, etc.)

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  7. The only example I can think of, besides you going all poetic about the leaf season, is Weber’s first Wargod book. They mention it’s raining and nasty for like a week at one point, before the bard character has a cool meeting. (avoiding spoilers, here, just in case; it’s free!)

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  8. Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. The weather has literally shaped the world. There are these things called highstorms that happen every couple of weeks and are strong enough to toss around boulders. This means that all the plants and animals have adapted to protect themselves, by having shells. No oxen pulling carts here, you have giant crab-like things called chulls. No grass either, well, actually yes grass, it just retreats underground if you touch it.

    One of the main characters is even affected by the weather, as he gets depressed in a monthly period without highstorms, when it just drizzles constantly. And the reasons behind his seasonal depression are both physical and magical, which is cool.

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  9. Weather and climate could definitely be used more in fiction. I don’t remember the last time I saw a character comment that, for example, spring might be coming early because the willow twigs are going yellow already. (I said that exact thing to someone last month.) Or complaining about having only minor spring rains after a winter with little snow, or wishing that the summer rains would let up for just a week because the hay needs to dry if the livestock are going to eat this winter. Many writers also don’t seem to get just how integral the right weather is to successful farming or gardening, either.

    As far as good examples of weather in fiction, Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive springs to mind. Giant storms (highstorms) are integral to the magic system, and consequently practically everything is shaped by them, from plants that retract to shelter when disturbed to cities built in sheltered locations to scholars calculating when the next highstorm is likely to hit. Storms or the lack thereof also affect characters both practically and emotionally.

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  10. Lee and Miller have a weatherman playing a large role in one of theLiaden short stories, because of weather, and of course when I last checked in they were planning to change the weather on the planet Surebleak.. Rachel Neumeier’s latest is named for winter: WINTER OF ICE & IRON, and the weather is important. Tolkien got weather.

    And it does vary with location. Someone … Lindenare .. above mentions summer rain. In my part of the country we almost never get rain in summer. i don’t have the concept. i remember someone in California talking to people from the NE who went to UC Berkeley reporting that felt they never had a winter because in Berkeley it doesn’t snow. (maybe once every 20 years you get a bit of snow.) Writers rarely capture that kind of expectation or missed expectation.

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  11. I would think the biggest story I read involving weather would be Ray Bradbury, who not only focused on it in short stories(All Summer in a Day), but it’s a good part of Something Wicked this Way comes. And the Wizard of Oz has a fair amount focusing on weather, though it’s mainly used as a metaphor.

    But I think it’s one of those things that has dwindled as people become less dependent on the weather directly. Something local is more likely(How many people have read stories where San Fransisco’s famous fog plays a role?) then the kind of sunny baking weather you get across the plains. Then again, in the story I’m trying to write, it’s an actual point that the locals totally ignore the (very common) winter rainstorm, but it sends the tourists scampering for cover.

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  12. So many have weather for “passing” atmospherics and I find nothing wrong with that in general. In an urban setting, one might truly ignore such things regularly. I have no windows to view outside at my current working department, and I merely ask what it’s like outside every couple hours…
    I adore Watership Down, though I haven’t reread it for a few years now, and for stories with weather as a recurring part it immediately came to mind. Very character and plot relevant. Also, quite a few of Anne McCaffrey’s works, or actually any adventure/survivor/explorer novels even pretending plausibility.
    Studying weather prediction and whys and wherefores was the best part of taking geology courses. I’m that person who defends weather forecasts and appreciates them even when in error.
    Never been officially diagnosed, but seasonal affective disorder etc, I can’t believe isn’t a problem every person has, just to different degrees. I have been slowly amassing passing silk flowers and plants because I can’t keep enough greenery alive indoors. Fake stuff used to depress me more, but now I’ll just take what I can get for color. Your blooming wisteria is wonderful, thanks for sharing. Amazing how fast those need trimming, but you may have a different (kudzu) perspective on that!

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