It’s winter time, and for those of us who don’t live right by the equator, it might be snowing. Honestly, as someone who did live in a country close to the equator for a couple years and therefore did not have any snow, seeing the ground and trees and buildings covered up with little white snowflakes is truly a sight to behold. On the rare occasion that I crawl out of whatever cave I’m currently dwelling in and look out into civilization from my window, it is always a beautiful view, and I find myself appreciating it more and more.
This got me thinking: how often do we pay attention to the weather in stories? Thinking back on stories that I’ve read (though keep in mind I only claim to be an ‘avid reader’), no distinct weather patterns come up. Sure sometimes it rains, or there’s a big storm or the weather is gloomy, but how often does weather play an integral role in a story?
Most times in books, authors will give relevant details about the season, the time, and whatever little town, palace or suburban home the story is taking place in — but nothing much about the weather. As readers, we usually assume the weather is just that of an average day: typical, boring and not worthy of mention … in fact, I rarely think of the weather at all when reading. So does that mean it’s not important?
Well, I beg to differ.
Giving the weather a bigger role in the story can not only help to flesh out the world more (after all, weather is constantly changing, and even if it stays relatively the same, stating this can help to give your story an extra realistic feel), but it can also make your setting much more interesting, subvert reader expectations and even serve as foreshadowing and the like. What’s more enticing: a castle in the middle of a vast plain, or a castle surrounded by fog and mist? An added bit of texture (in the form of weather) can help elevate your story into something memorable.
Another example is Ari Aster’s Midsommar (18+). Viewers are taken through a visceral horror film that is constantly bathed in sunlight and warm blue skies. Horror enthusiasts have been taught for decades that darkness = fear. Sunlight is for romances and adventures, not for the horrific. However, in this film, viewers only found solace at night (mostly), when the characters were in bed, winding down from the day's insidious events. Quite frankly, this movie made daylight and clear skies seem much scarier than a dark and gloomy night could hope to be. There were no shadows to obscure our vision from the display in front of us. We had to watch everything gritty detail unfold in pure sunlight.
Of course, Midsommar is a movie, and having a visual aid to show your viewers, rather than relying on their imaginations to convey meaning is much easier than writing, but this is still a good example nonetheless. Take the opposite, for example: A stormy, blackened sky is the sight where two lovers will start the rest of their lives, or a cloudless day is a warning sign for our protagonist, who finds solace and safety in the rain. A snow covered hillside might be the perfect place for a child-like adventure or a simple memory, or it could be the final battle of lifelong villains. A tropical island could be the perfect place to relax and unwind or the place where our tired protagonist works all day in the blazing heat for a minimum wage job.
The weather can also be a subtle (albeit a bit cliche) tool for foreshadowing events to come in your story. Maybe a dark storm is the perfect way to foreshadow the climax of your story. Maybe, that character who always appears in the mysterious fog actually isn’t human. Even something small like your protagonist always getting caught in the rain, representing something bad about to happen to them, or an approaching dry spell representing the disconnect between characters, can add more to your story, and be a fun tidbit for readers to look back at once they’ve finished your book. There are so many dynamic choices to make with the weather; try some out.
I saw a writing tip once that said if you’re stuck in the middle of a scene, try changing the weather, and see what happens next. Whether (no pun intended) you realize it or not, the weather can have a major impact on your writing. Walking to school in the rain versus the snow has very different implications. In reality, not every weather change will have some fundamental change in your story, but it wouldn’t hurt to include it. At the very least, weather adds some very familiar and evocative descriptions to your story. Mostly everyone knows rain, and sunshine, and clouds and clear skies. When a reader sits down to read these stories and these descriptions, it’s easily identifiable in their mind and visualizing the setting becomes simpler.
"Above all else, I think I’d just like to see freshly fallen snow described so perfectly in writing that those who have never seen it before can feel the cold."