Last week, half the U.S. was stuck in a polar vortex. Having worked in sustainability since 1998 and personally discussed climate change with some of the world’s top climate scientists, I’m severely tempted to go off on a tangent about how dangerously foolish all those “See? Global warming’s fake after all!” articles and comments spreading rampant on the Web are.
But I won’t.
Let’s talk about the weather. Most of us no doubt take it for granted… until it's in our face. The weather determines what we wear and how we drive, influences our experience of sporting events, field trips and beach picnics, and impacts an extraordinary number of insignificant aspects of life, such as crops and airline flights.
So what does weather have to do with writing? Nothing. And everything.
Feel Nature in the Raw
Unlike much other data or information you might want in your narrative, weather is one thing you cannot simply research or vicariously live. Sure, you can watch a stormchaser video or your favorite weather channel, but if your work is going to express any climatic realism at all, you need to get out there and experience it.
Ever stood in the eye of a hurricane and watched the air turn green? Kayaked out on the open ocean only to have the benevolent heavens suddenly hurl hail at you? Watched horizontal lightning rip the skies open? Or sit on an Alpine peak watching the tops of clouds roll past you?
The next time you're caught by the weather, don't run for cover.* Stay put and feel. Feel it with your entire being.
I’m ridiculously, profoundly influenced by the weather around me, all the time. No matter what mood I’m in or the thoughts running through my mind, when I walk or drive through fog, my daily routine glazes over and I’m transported back to my homeland in Central Europe. Then there's Calle Luchana, the street of honey and gold that burned a permanent mark into my soul when I lived in Madrid. I've experienced other Calle Luchanas in other cities, but they're few: it has to be a certain wavelength of light and a certain gritty texture, a certain temperature and a certain humidity. It's not just any old afternoon on any old street. Then there's... just too much to expound upon here.
* Unless it really is a tornado.
Write With the Weather
Description of your protagonist's physical appearance? Check. Description of his/her car, house, garden, desk, other plot-relevant assets? Check. Description of background and other secondary scenery? Check. Characterization of the weather in your story? Uhmm…
Don't discount it. It might be the dullest possible way to start a conversation at a party, but weather can serve as a powerful element in your writing: it can be the atmospheric setting that gives a stretch of dialogue or an action scene that extra flavor; the catalyst for a plot point or conflict resolution; and yes, weather can even be the main character if you are so rained upon. Er, inclined.
Weather can also serve as simple inspiration, much like music whets your muse. I've written in all sorts of weather: in the sun, in the rain, foggy, clear, overcast, snow and storm.
Bottle up as many weather-related sensations as possible somewhere in your psyche for future creative use, especially those exceptional moments of nature's raw power. It's not every day you experience a hail storm, hurricane, or Arctic winds. As a self-respecting writer, you must be able to recall the bone-chilling details of a raging snowstorm while writing your next breakout novel in a hammock in the Caribbean. (Hopefully not the other way around.)
Write Despite the Weather
Take everything you just read in the previous section, and flip it. Let's say cloudy days really get you depressed. So uninspired are you that you drag yourself around all day, barely existing. Forget high creativity.
Or how about heat. Try having a coherent thought—nevermind well-structured writing—in ninety degrees at ninety-five percent humidity.
Never fear, the literary weatherman is here! Now, you too can be your own climate generator. Use that bottling technique I mentioned above and draw on your most powerful experiences with the elements no matter where or when you are. Like any other emotion, sentiment, or experience, make the atmospheric forces other humans take for granted an essential tool in your wordshop.
Of course, in certain instances you might need a little technological help... like a fan when the heat starts to melt your brain.
(Now, if you happen to be under the weather, like I was over the holidays, you really need to push through that "local" weather. I wrote about my little personal war on my web site.)
Finally, leverage the power of Nature to barrel through writer's block. It's amazing what a change of weather (e.g., light, temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.) can do for a word-weary writer's brain. Especially effective is contrast. For example, if you live in a sunny climate, you may find that those few cloudy days are actually incredibly romantic. Make the most of them! (Writing wise I mean!)
How does the weather change the way you write?