(Post-A-Day Challenge, Day 25)
As I write this, the season’s first snow is falling outside my window. Sadly, it does not appear that we’ll get the 18″ some forecasters were predicting. I’m thinking we’ll be lucky to make 3″ by morning, and then only on the grass and the roof. So no snow day tomorrow.
I have fond memories of snow and writing together. Back in 2006, I participated in my first NaNoWriMo. I met the 50K-word goal by November 30th, but I still had another 65K or so to finish the story.
It was December–late December–and I desperately wanted to finish the story before Christmas. And along came the snowpocalypse. Mother Nature dumped three feet of snow on Denver about a week before Christmas that year, giving everyone in my office a couple of bonus days off.
Of course, at the time, I lived close enough to my office that I hiked through the snow to go to work anyway. Didn’t realize until after I’d gotten there that the office was actually closed. Hiked home, slipped on the stairs, and sprained my ankle (though not badly). So I had the perfect opportunity to sit home in bed with my laptop on my lap and my foot on a pillow. And thanks to the snow, I finished my story.
But when it comes to including descriptions of weather in my stories, I’m never quite sure how much to include, or how frequently I should bring it up. In my Winterbourne series, the main character is a young woman who loves nothing more than to be aloft in an airship. To the extent that the weather affects her flight, I know I should mention it. But how often should it come up otherwise? If I say it’s November, should characters mention digging out their winter coats? If it’s summer, should I talk about how the muggy air is making them sweat? If it rains only when it’s necessary to the plot, is that too much of a coincidence?
I guess my rule of thumb is that if the weather is having a direct effect on the characters, I should mention it, and otherwise, not. Which seems kind of obvious, but there are times when it’s tempting to open a story or even a chapter with a meteorological observation, just to have a starting point. After all, isn’t “It was a dark and stormy night” one of the most famous opening lines ever? But if my characters are just going to sit around and play pinochle all evening, does the darkness and storminess of the night really have any bearing on the matter?
Perhaps, rather than telling the reader that “it was a bright, sunny day outside,” I’d do better to have my main character raise a hand to shield her eyes from the sun’s glare. Rather than telling readers that it’s cold out, I should describe how my character is dressing in layers before going out in it. And if my characters are spending the day indoors, unless there’s a specific reason one of them is pining to be outdoors instead, I probably shouldn’t even mention the weather at all.
How do other folks approach the problem? Have you ever read stories where there was too much discussion of the weather? Or not enough?
I agree with the show don’t tell ideas you mention. e.g. extra cloths, sheilding eyes, breath forming little clouds, ice crystals on ruff, etc.
I think that adding some comment on weather can be appropriate for mood. I also think that mentioning the storm outside while playing pinochle is appropriate, especially if that is the reason they are playing pinochle instead of going to the drive through.