The Weather Abides

I was working on my next Kin Wars Saga novel and got to thinking: we use the weather to set the mood, sure, but why? Everybody knows that if you have a funeral it’s supposed to rain, and a happy ending is a bright sunny day. Depressive days are flat, dull, grey and cold, while snowy days are typically for celebrating holidays.

Is this a learned writing technique or do we instinctively do it?

Much of the time when I write, the seasons dictate what the scene is going to be. I never realized that I do this until I’m rereading it later. I always think “Dang, I always have mountains of snow when it’s a happy holidays.” I know others like to have warm spring days with idyllic scents and sun kissing the skin, but my favorite scenes with setting and nature is snow.

Yes, I think I would do well living in a forest atop a mountain covered in snow. As long as I had hot water, internet, and a driveway in case of emergencies I’d probably be a happy camper.

Some of my characters are the same way, while others aren’t. I try not to shoehorn in my temperature and weather preferences, but it’s just so hard. I don’t understand how people can live in the dry, scorching hell called the desert. I can see the beach, since it has the ocean breeze (and constant threat of tsunami, and earthquakes if you’re on the West Coast…), and I can even understand prairies (blizzards! 16′ high snow banks!). The desert? More precisely, Phoenix? No way.

I can’t set a story in the city of Phoenix because my thinly-veiled disgust of Junior Hell would probably turn the reader off. I know my limits.

What about you?

Jason’s latest YA novel, Devastatoris coming out January 12, 2018. This is Book 2 of The Warp. You can find the first book of the series, Corruptor, here.

26 thoughts on “The Weather Abides

  1. Living just west of Phoenix (where it is generally a little hotter) I have to say it’s lovely most of the year. Even summer is useful for keeping the riff-raff away.

      1. I do not have direct experience, but more than one Californian has claimed that while most of the state is, astonishingly, actually somewhere on or at close to earth, Bakersfield simply must be somewhere well inside Mercury’s orbit.

  2. Weather for me is based upon what exactly I am writing. Usually to confound the characters. Sometimes to set the mood, or contrast the mood. Otherwise, I wing it…

  3. I think a variation on this theme, or perhaps an extension of it, might be a planet in, say, a binary star system with a Sun-like primary and a much dimmer secondary. Would the “happy season” be the months when there were two suns in the sky? Or would those months be viewed with mixed feelings – happy days with two suns, but terrifying nights of sunless darkness? Perhaps the time of year when each sun was alone in the sky would be associated with loneliness? Or would those be the times of year when people celebrated journeys of discovery and growth as the secondary sun wandered alone through the night sky?

    Fun things to think about on a bright and sunny New England winter day.

    1. In the late Jerry Pournelle’s Janissary series, the planet Tran undergoes upheavals whenever their system’s third sun comes near. So extra sunlight may *not* improve their mood, depending on the context.

  4. Interesting. I don’t think about, or I should most of my characters don’t really think about weather that much. OK, Rada Ni Drako grouses about Drakon IV’s summers, because the Azdhagi don’t believe in air-conditioning and she wilts into a puddle of misery and fur when the temps are over 90F and 90% humidity (which the Azhdagi think is absolutely wonderful, but they prefer 95-100 F, thank you). So it doesn’t seem to affect the action. Although everyone takes the first day of the wet-season off on Shikhari, just by tradition.

    I am very weather sensitive and aware IRL, in contrast. Huh.

  5. What’s weirder is reading a novel that you are sure had a certain set of weather and realizing that no, the weather is entirely something else. We associate certain weather patterns with certain emotions, and it’s really tempting to let that overwhelm other considerations (like actual seasonal weather.)

  6. While I suppose I use it that way too, it tends to be more how the POV character observes it than a mood-definer from on high.

    In one tale I have two nonhumans… one cold-adapted, the other heat-adapted. The weather apparently varies according to which character requires inconveniencing. One or the other is always unhappy. 😀

  7. For me, weather just is. I’ve used rain only once to evoke mood. The rest of the time, it’s to limit characters’ options. In one, it was so they would hang around an inn and a character showed her skill with a gemshorn just to past the time. In another, it was so a music professor would accept a ride from a local hood.

    In real life, my opinion of weather varies. Snow? Better than ice, and it gets old pretty quick. Sunny day? Welcome after a rain; not so much in a drought in high temperatures. Rain? Days of it get old; breaking a drought; wonderful. And when you’re a boy working in the fields in the summer, you eye every cloud in hopes it’ll bring a storm and you can knock off for the day.

  8. I spent 5 years in and around Tucson, which is roughly 1000′ higher than Phoenix, and I found it pretty pleasant. We got snow one December night, 6″ where I was, 3-4″ in town. Photo in paper next day: two women throwing snowballs at each other in front of a sign saying “Department Of Arid Land Studies” (UofA), with a little snowman on top of the sign. Chamber of Commerce said the photo suppressed tourism.

    1. I lived in Rindge, New Hampshire (just north of the Massachusetts border, just east of the Vermont border) for about five years.

      I am very happy to be in Tucson right now. Yesterday, I was running around in shorts and a t-shirt, instead of trying to figure out which lump in the parking lot was my truck. That game got very old, very quickly…

  9. Russian novels are ALL ABOUT the weather conditions. It’s not even a literary thing. Everybody contemporary seems to do it, and it always is setting the scene and foreshadowing stuff. I think they originally stole it from great Russian writers, who stole it from French people; but they have made it their own.

    Of course, Russian weather really does dictate people’s moods in real life, often, and it definitely determines their activities and diet.

    But yeah, if you turn the page in a Russian novel, and there’s a new weather report, you have moved into a new section of the book and a new mood. I am not even kidding.

  10. I was born in NYC and have lived in the South (AL and TX) for 16 years now. When I lived in NY I froze. I enjoy having mostly t-shirts and few turtlenecks. Admittedly I live in Northern Texas, Dallas, so it could be hotter. I’ll give you all of my ration of snow.

    1. My forbears lived in Western Russia (Pale of Settlement) and Lithuania. I’m sure that they would lived if they could have.

  11. Multiple suns. I believe it was Asimov who did that, a planet with seven suns, and a moon that had never been seen because the sky was always too bright, except every few thousand years the solar and lunar positions are such that there is absolute darkness, and the stars are visible. There are social consequences.

  12. I suppose everyone near Phoenix is now required to reply (hey guys, we should get together sometime!), but the high being 66 degrees today in January doesn’t really make it feel like hell in AZ right now…

    For a more relevant comment, if you aren’t writing omniscient, the POV character should be seeing whatever the weather is through a filter of their current emotional state. So if they are depressed, they’re going to notice the most depressing parts of the weather pattern, while if they’re happy they should be noticing the happy parts. Throw in a choice of descriptive words to enhance that and the weather in your snowstorm scene could be super happy (think kids playing in the snow) or terror-inducing (injured backwoodsman seeking shelter), or depressing (bored writer trapped in cabin with nothing to do), or whatever.

    Anyway, here’s a bonus snowstorm opening done as a writing exercise, concentrating primarily on description (notice the complete absence of the word “white”, try it yourself). Hopefully you can pick out the emotional-loading of the words used as an example:

    Nancy rested on the snow bank she’d packed down, the back of her thin denim jacket crunching icy petals as she stared up into the smear of fluffy clouds. Unique flakes falling toward her reflected back the twinkle of her eyes.
    The wind placid, frozen tears quietly tumbled down in all shapes and sizes. Nancy brushed one from her cheek and into her mouth. A sliver of pure coolness; a single lick of ephemeral ice cream.
    She never wanted to return to the dull cottage nearby, it’s gray slate roof and ashen walls menacing the edge of her limited visibility. A frigid brick fireplace jutted from the roofline, refrozen water gathered around the mouth. Earlier in the year, the rear of the cottage was decorated with blooming flowers and shiny ivy, but now at the end of winter only bare stalks across wooden latticework remained clinging to the walls, icicles in turn adhering to the meager cross strips.
    Formerly open fields, veiled by the curtains of the storm, slept in all directions. Indefinite piles in those fields, smothered under blankets of snow, hid their secrets. Nothing to worry about right now. The barbed-wire fence lines leading away from both sides of the cottage to disappear into the storm were only distinct because they were too sharp and thin to be hidden by the snow.
    The driveway ran away from the carport near the cottage and disappeared into a spidery forest. Covered in black ice, edged by plunging ditches filled with slurry, the exit wouldn’t be passable until after the freedom of the storm ended for Nancy.
    A trio of grain silos stabbed into a schism in the clouds, the rusted mechanical works of their bucket elevators long past their useful life. She knew the circles of steel panel would be empty and hollow inside, had been for years. She couldn’t even find the outline of the nearby burnt down barn foundation in the snow. The swirling flakes smoothed all that over.
    In Nancy’s experience, the storm’s hiatus wouldn’t last long. For now, the pure flakes blocked any other smell as they fell near her. All distant sounds were passively muffled by the crumbling snow. She was determined to enjoy the peace as long as she was allowed.

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