Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
June 25, 2021

Using Weather in Fiction

By Ellen Buikema

Weather in fiction is a powerful factor. When weather is included in a scene it adds depth and realism, pulling the reader further into the story. Every description whether in scene, tagline, or dialogue, including weather, must move the story forward.

Since childhood I’ve enjoyed storms and changes in weather so much that I used to try and outperform the weather forecasters. Sometimes I got lucky.

I find the electrical energy of a storm invigorating. (As long as I’m not traveling in it.)

I learned to estimate how far away a storm is using the “flash-to-bang” lightning to thunder method. Count the seconds between lightning and thunder and divide by five. Five seconds is one mile, ten seconds is two miles. When the time between the lightning flash and the roar of thunder is 30 seconds or less, the lightning is 6 miles away or closer. Definitely time to be indoors.

While I write this blog post it is pouring rain here in central Texas. Thank goodness for surge protectors. Now if only the power doesn’t go out…

Why Write About Weather?

Storms and changing weather can cause tension, altering the protagonist’s course and complicating the hero’s journey. Weather conditions can change the outcome of events.

Emotions and weather are intertwined

  • Stormy weather/stormy mood
  • Sunny skies/sunny disposition
  • Overcast and rainy/depression—unless you are from an area where overly rainy is considered liquid sunshine as it is sometimes referred to in the Pacific Northwest.

One Stop For Writers has a fantastic weather thesaurus listed under the Thesaurus tab: Weather And Earthly Phenomenon Thesaurus.

This site lists 39 weather elements with notes on:

  • Sights
  • Textures and Sensations
  • Sounds
  • Reinforcing a Mood
  • Symbolism
  • Common Clichés
  • Weather Notes
  • and Scenarios For Adding Conflict or Tension

Weather-writing activity

  • Think of a novel that uses weather to enhance the story.
  • Which of the eight elements listed above does the author use?
  • How is it effective?
  • Take a scene in your current Work In Progress and try adding weather elements.
  • Does that take you deeper into the scene?

Quotes where weather impacts scenes.

Weather heightening fear

“He stared in awe and fear at the freakish celestial display, another jagged crack opened in the heavens. The earth-seeking tip of the hot bolt touched an iron streetlamp only sixty feet away, ans Maxwell cried out in fear. At the moment of contact, the night became incandescent, and the glass panes in the lamp exploded. The clap of thunder vibrated in Maxwell's teeth; the porch floor rattled." Lightning by Dean Koontz

Weather reinforcing mood

"She shook off his hand. ‘Like he gave me a chance, you mean?’ She turned on her heel. ‘I can’t even believe what I’m hearing.’

The rain was falling in sheets now, dripping from her hair in wet streaks. Kate blinked the water out of her eyes and stumbled as she walked away." A Way From Heart to Heart by Helena Fairfax

Soothing weather juxtaposing horror

‘“Confounded foul-mouth fool tried ta ride them rods ’neath the train car.” He wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve. “He slipped ’n fell clean under.” He sat on the ground, rocking while he hugged his skinny legs to his chest, his voice strained and broken. “Bill was my bestest friend.”

Soon, a gentle rain fell, washing away the blood and grime.’” The Hobo Code, a work in progress

Weather as escape

“The fog-bank lay like white wool against the window. Holmes held the lamp towards it. 'See,' said he. 'None could find his way into the Grimpen Mire tonight.

She laughed and clapped her hands. Her eyes and teeth gleamed with fierce merriment. He may find his way in, but never out," she cried.” The Hound of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Weather enhances the scene using the senses

“The snow came up to the top of Georgie's calves — she had to lift her feet high to make any progress. Her ears and eyelids were freezing ... God, she'd never even been able to imagine this much cold before. How could people live someplace that so obviously didn't want them?” Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Weather and the hero’s journey

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks." The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Final Thoughts

The only time I don’t appreciate the use of weather in writing occurs when the author uses a major storm or other natural disaster to resolve the ending, or rather not resolve as the characters were killed off in the disaster. When I’ve invested time and emotional energy in a story only to see the characters destroyed in a typhoon I am less enthusiastic to read another novel by that author.

What do you think is the best use of weather in fiction? Do you listen to sounds of weather or replay storms in your mind when you are writing scenes involving storms? Do you have a favorite quote where weather affects a scene that you’d like to share?

* * * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, Parenting: A Work in Progress, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon, a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are, The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA fantasy.

Find her at http://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Meet Ellen!

On Tuesday, Jun 29, 2021 12pm – 12:45pm Central Time I will be on a Skype chat with fellow authors. We will be talking about the importance of children's books.

The link to join the Meet Now chat via Skype is: https://join.skype.com/Zdbdl6IxQY2S
You do not need to have a Skype account to use this link and if you do have a Skype account you may join via Skype also.

Top Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

12 comments on “Using Weather in Fiction”

  1. It was so interesting to read this post, Ellen and see all the ways people have used weather in their novels. Here is an excerpt from a story I wrote almost two decades ago when my mom died - I was in Maui when I got "the call" to come say goodbye and I went back a few months later to grieve.

    # # #

    Oddly, the weather was the same as the day I left two months and two days before. It seemed that God cried with me on both days. Big, harsh, lashing tears to share my fear as I left. Steady, warm, quiet tears to soothe my grief when I returned.

  2. My Irish great aunts used to say, "Blessed is the soul when the rains from heaven fall on the day of their funeral." The aunties used a lot of weather analogies now that I think about it.
    So sorry about your Mom.

    Thank for sharing your thoughts, Jenny.

  3. The weather thesaurus sounds great! I'll be checking it out. Yes, how many funeral scenes in movies and books are set during a miserable rain. All those black umbrellas. Tears mixing with raindrops. Thanks for the list of weather elements. I'll check them against my scenes with weather.

    1. I'm glad that the post is useful!
      The weather thesaurus was happy find. I will be using it too.

  4. I use weather quite a bit. One of my favorite ways to see weather used is in the role of antagonist. Think of authors like Jack London and others who wrote man against nature rather than man against man.
    Interesting side note. In my current WIP the weather never changes, which also sets a certain mood. A permanent state of twilight leaves the characters feeling like they are stuck between two realities (which unbeknownst to them, they are).

    1. Leaving your characters in permanent twilight is a really interesting idea! I look forward to reading your story.

    2. I've used weather in all of my novels in some form or fashion. I know that it's supposed to be the kiss of death in some quarters but not for me. In fact, I would say that the weather in my last novel was a character or should I say, an antagonist, because it sure threw a monkey wrench into the works.

  5. As a retired meteorologist, I have used weather a lot in my novels. In one story, On the Pineapple Express, a 100-year storm was one of the two antagonists. If you decide to use extreme weather events in your writing, be sure to keep it realistic. Having a meteorologist review your work, or at least someone who has lived the event you are describing, is essential.

    1. Excellent advice! The more realistic the scene the better. I hadn't considered weather as antagonist, but I can see that now. Maybe like the hurricane in Key Largo.

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