Sunday, January 29, 2017

WINTER IS COMING (NOT)

S. Lee Manning: The topic for this month is weather and how it affects us as writers and readers. Or how we use weather as a character. Or how’s the weather? Or you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.  (If you’re not from the 60s, look it up.)


Confession: writing this blog is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Already wrote and threw one draft out after looking at my husband’s face while he was reading it.

What idiot came up with this topic – oh, wait, it was me.

I thought it’d be interesting. Weather as character. After all, what would Game of Thrones be without the line, intoned with fear, “Winter is Coming” – and a lot of half frozen creatures coming over a wall of ice?   What would The Long Hot Summer be without a long hot summer – and a young, shirtless Paul Newman trying to cool down? What would The Producers be like without “Springtime for
Hitler?” What would Europe look like today if 75 years ago, there hadn’t been a Russian winter?


Weather matters. In real life, it matters a lot. That’s why I’m sitting in a condo here in Margate, Florida, where there’s always someone blowing leaves or cutting grass or playing television too loud, because everyone here is old and can’t hear worth a damn – instead of holed up in my office in Vermont with views of woods and mountains, and acres of land between me and my closest neighbor. It’s 77 degrees here, noise and all, and in Vermont, in the calm and beauty of the mountains, it’s a balmy 17 degrees. Weather matters.

It’s just hard to write about.

Think about it. It affects us and our moods, and what we do, and how we dress, but how long a conversation do you really have about weather?
“Sure is cold today.”
“Sure is.”
“Gonna get colder.”
“Sure is. Maybe snow.”
“Yup.”
Then you go on to talk about something more likely to get you into a fight but more engaging, like politics or religion…(or climate change, which is again about weather but which I’m not writing about today, even though it’s real).

So, I’m going to do what I always do when faced with a blog and have no idea what to write. I’m going to make a list. And here you are, six suggestions on how to write about weather.

1.     Be realistic. If the novel starts in October in New Jersey, check out what typical temperatures are – and typical weather. Don’t have it snow. It snows in Vermont in October – sometimes – but not in Jersey, usually. Well, caveat, there was a Halloween snow a few years ago in Trenton, back   
when I still lived there. It knocked out our power for a day – but that was weird and atypical, although the weather is getting weird and more atypical all the time. (Climate change?)Go for typical weather.

2.     Be consistent. If you have snow on page 50, don’t have anyone cutting the grass on page 60, unless they flew from Vermont to Florida; then it’s fine. Otherwise, nope. Climate change is real, but it doesn’t work that fast.

3.     Extreme weather can play into the plot. It can be another obstacle that the protagonist has to fight and overcome. Work it. Have the hero battling a hurricane or trapped in a blizzard – with the villain. And five cats.  Winter is coming. Oh yeah, definite reader interest, especially with the five cats.

4.     If your character is driving in Vermont in the winter, and she’s not an idiot, put her in a Subaru or a 4x4 pick-up truck. Okay, this isn’t so much a suggestion about writing as it is about traveling in Vermont in the winter. Don’t drive there in a mini-van, even if you bought a min-van, because you drove a carpool and had two kids and two German Shepherds and a cat, because you’ll be on the side of the road, watching the Subarus whizz by you, laughing, until you trudge through five feet of snow to find a farmer with a tractor who will tow you to a paved section of road. Not that I know anyone who did that. (Whistling.)

5.     Unless you’re making the weather into a plot device or a symbolic device, don’t spend too much time on it. Scroll above to reported conversation about weather. Not that interesting.

6.     Like any other rule for writing, take every one of these suggestions with a grain of salt – which is kind of how I wrote them anyway.

Now, armed with my suggestions, you are ready to face any weather related writing. Or not. But I’m ready to wrap this up, because it’s 77 degrees, and I’m going for a walk. Winter may be coming, but I’m in Margate, baby.

Be safe out there.









5 comments:

  1. I had to laugh at some of your descriptions and advice on writing about weather and how many authors simply get it wrong -- and how disconcerting that is to the reader. It seems that authors who write romance novels use weather extremes a lot to "force" the guy and girl to be together when at first they didn't like each other, but when "marooned" in a cabin they "happened to find" while the storm blew by cemented their love affair. What a popular trope - right? Now, I hope aspiring writers will read your blog and take it to heart! Thanks for posting.

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  2. Hysterically funny, S. Lee! OMG. And Karna's right about romances (and occasionally others) using the weather to force people together. Climate change? What climate change! I think it's a great topic, and very glad you suggested it!

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  3. I used to live in Panama. I got tired of the weather: the same every day, except in the rainy season - when it was the same every day with rain in the afternoon. That's why I live in Maine, because I like change. I admit I don't like January, because it's cold and dark, but there's hope because every day is brighter than the last. Change, you see. And mud season is a bore, but the mud goes away. More change. Variety is fun. So, Sandy, you can have Florida's monotone. Give me a kaleidoscope.

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  4. Hi all, thanks for the nice comments. Gayle and Karna, you're right - romances do seem to have more weather than your average thriller.

    John, thanks for the comment. I live in Vermont 10 months out of the year.I'm not missing the winter in Vermont, it's winter for more than six month, In Vermont, we sometimes still have snow in April. I'm just taking a time out. I can't take the -15 to -30 degrees that it sometimes gets in January/February - so I'm in florida for those two months. I'll be back in time to get stuck in the snow and the mud. Oh wait, I have a Subaru now.

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  5. A great wake-up call and fun as well. Sometimes I find writers set up an incoming storm and then forget to mention it again. This likely means they found the plot could take off without an external device to propel it. Which is why keeping an image of the scene in mind is really helpful. Then you can use what you really need and revise out excess later. I shared your article on my FaceBook! Thanks.

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