Let’s Talk About The Weather
It’s quite amazing how much time people spend talking – or more often, bitching – about the weather. It’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too miserable, or you’re stuck inside when it’s absolutely beautiful out.
Obviously none of this is particularly relevant if you’re writing science fiction of the exploding spaceship flavor – or any other form of science fiction where much of the tale happens inside spaceships, orbital stations, or other completely artificial environments. Even if said artificial environment has its own ecosystem, the likelihood of there being uncontrolled weather is somewhere around zero. Although it could be fun to set up one that does for a story just to see where it could go.
Of course, the epic quest type of fantasy can have weather out the wazoo, so much that it can be damn near its own character sometimes. Heck, Impaler wasn’t an epic quest, but the weather played a huge part in the story simply because of the logistical difficulties involved in a winter campaign in that era.
That said, if you’re writing the weather, I can guarantee I’m not the only person who’ll get irritated if the weather constantly matches the general mood of the characters you’re following. Or if it constantly counters the general mood.
I may be something of a bitch for this, but I much prefer the weather to be something that’s noticed when it gives someone a reason to bitch – because that’s how we do it in reality. Main character grumbling about snow because he needs to go to the village for something and he really doesn’t want to slog through a foot of the white stuff. Farmer grouching because the spring rains are late and he’s worried he’ll lose his crop. Everyone anxiously watching the sky for signs of rain because they haven’t come across a river in ages and their water supplies are getting dangerously low… That kind of thing.
It helps to look at climatic zones and the kind of weather they typically have at a given time of year. It also helps to find yourself a city that’s in the climate zone in question, and examine its historical weather records for the time of year you’re working with. Knowing that Melbourne weather can be changeable (it’s one of those “just wait five minute” places) isn’t the same as discovering that the temperature can – and will – drop 40 degrees in half an hour when a cold change sweeps though, and that the cold change will usually bring strong south-easterly winds (which haven’t been interrupted by anything except maybe Tasmania in their journey from the Antarctic Circle), heavy rain, and potentially hailstones big enough to knock a person out if they’re dumb enough to stand out in it.
This is what makes weather fun to work with. If you know your climatic disturbances, you can play merry hell with your characters in what would otherwise be relatively dull “they traveled from A to B” kind of narrative, as well as giving you reasons for the characters to be a tad disgruntled, rumpled, and seriously discommoded. Putting them under stress that’s not caused directly by someone also gives you room for character bonding and at times character breaking moments.
So… when you write something that involves outdoors and natural environments, don’t forget to include the weather now and then.