The weather: cliché or clever? Here’s some hints about deciding what to do with meteorological conditions in your fiction writing.
It’s well known that the weather can be an important indicator of mood within your story. Even Shakespeare used the weather to set the tone for his plays.
But has the use of weather become cliché? Does a dark and stormy night always have to be a precursor to something bad happening? Do romances only ever happen on sunny summer afternoons?
How many stories have you read that have begun with descriptions of the weather? The first way to avoid weather clichés is to not open your book, chapter or story with a description of the weather. The mood can be created in so many other ways: emotions, experiences, events. The examples in the paragraph above have become incredibly cliché and really should be avoided at all costs(!). Let’s look at how to avoid slipping into cliché and use weather in more creative ways.
If you want to create a happy, bright tone, you could begin with your character feeling relaxed, doing an activity that shows their state: reading a book, doing the housework, feeding the kids. Whatever it is that is relaxing. If you need to heighten the tension, rather than a thunderstorm, use another device to show: pacing, anxiously searching, twitching at the window.
Both examples, albeit somewhat basic examples, are far more interesting ways of setting the mood of the story, chapter or section. Not only do they tell the reader about the mood but they are also ways to tell us about a character’s feelings. Readers want to get inside a character’s head: to empathise, to feel, to experience the world through that character. A description of the weather simply doesn’t let us do that.
When should you write about the weather?
There are lots of times when you might decide to use the weather in your story. If you’re going to include the weather, make it relevant to the story. Once you’ve established the tone, maybe the weather could add to the character’s experience.
Let’s use the examples above:
It’s a bright sunny day. Nick was reading his book, leant up against the tree.
Look at how bland that prose is. Let’s transform that!
Nick leant up against the tree as he opened up to the next chapter. The sun reflected off the crisp, white pages making it hard for him to read the words.
The sun is now relevant and helps to set the tone of the story.
Thunder cracked outside. Nick paced up and down, looking for the source of the disturbance.
How could we make the thunder relevant?
Nick paced up and down the dark hallway, looking for the source of the disturbance. Lightning flashed, illuminating the passageway and as the thunder cracked, he saw it.
The weather is also a great way of giving your characters a reason for doing something (for example, staying indoors because of the rain or getting out to enjoy the sunshine). That way, it is relevant to the story.
And now for something completely different …
We avoid cliché use of weather but how about using those clichés to our advantage? One really interesting way to use weather in your writing is to subvert the usual weather patterns associated with the mood and tone you are trying to create and to turn them on their head.
What would happen if you wanted to create a darker tone but used the backdrop of a sunny, pleasant day? How your character reacts to the juxtaposition you create gives you plenty of scope to explore your character’s motivations, thoughts and feelings.
The weather can be a powerful storytelling device. Avoid the cliché, make it relevant and play with it. And, if you’re not sure about your use of weather in your writing, an editor can support you. Click the links below to find out more about my editorial services and to get a free sample edit!
Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.
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