Maycomb was ...a tired old town. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then....men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.
****To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Maybe I'm obsessing about the weather because its May and I'm still freezing, but I can't help but notice how seamlessly some writers weave weather details into their stories. Since my amateur sleuth is a gardener, a certain amount of weather info is integral to the story, but I'm very self-conscious when I do it. As if it's something I learned in Writing 101, "always put the weather in." Without a legitimate narrative reason for it (i.e., story revolves around a storm, flood, etc.)do you generally use weather to help create a mood in your books? And how do you do it, so that it doesn't sound like an interruption, or latebreaking news from The Weather Channel?
And do people just skip the weather parts? Reporters--like my main character, and (cough) like me--always have to know what the weather is. So she checks to see if it's going to rain during her live shot, making her mascara run and blowing her hair around so it sticks to her lipstick, or if she needs snow boots, or whether the sun is going to be a lighting asset or detriment. Hallie says to plague your characters with discomfort (See Hallie? I use your book every day...)and the weather can be a cold wet stormy windy obstacle. ((And let me just say: if you had the idea for an all-weather channel, say, ten years ago, would you have thought it could possibly work? Do people really sit and watch the weather?))
That's right..I remember her saying that at her workshop at Crimebake. I did buy the book Hallie...btw I loved that workshop. Really got a lot out of it.
I think weather is great when it's part of the plot, or when you use it show something about your character (Hank's example) -- in other words, it's there for a reason...also useful for showing the passage of time in an artful way ("the rain had stopped and stars twinkled...") But woe to those who forget Elmore Leonard's writing rule #1: "Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people." (see http://www.elmoreleonard.com/) On the other hand (there's always one in writing)...for a great weather opening, see Tony Hillerman's "Listening Woman."
It is hard, as Ro points out, to write it so it's not a cliche or a news bulletin.
I agree with Hallie. Unless the weather is a part of the plot or critical to character, it's incidental. IE. boring. I struggle to put it in sometimes, too, because I'm trying to make the environment real. But most likely, if it's a struggle, it doesn't belong there.
But when it's real, people love weather. What it's going to be like tomorrow? What's the weather where Mom is? I read somewhere they have a computer program that will flawlessly predict the weather. Problem is, its so complicated that by the time it makes the prediction, the weather has already happened. (Off the topic, I know.) But you know, I've edited several books for fellow authors. And I'm always writing in the margin-is it hot? Cold? Raining? Remember, it's July. Or something like that. So we miss it when it's missing.
RO: I'm still cold...maybe I should set my next book in the Virgin Islands instead of Connecticut.