No matter where you are in writing your story, weather can play a part in moving the action forward, defining a character, or throwing a wrench in the path of good or evil.
Great writers from Shakespeare to Steinbeck have successfully used weather in their stories. If it weren't for the drought, the Joads might never have set out to California. In The Tempest, we can't forget how Prospero used weather for his own good.
Here's how you can hurl lightning bolts at your villains or paint rainbows for your protagonists and get away with it.
PLOT. If you are stuck moving the action forward, change the weather. When your MC steps outside without an umbrella and is caught in a sudden downpour, does he slip into a cafe for a fortuitous encounter with someone? Does he hop on a bus to avoid the weather? Does that bus crash? Is it the wrong bus, and he ends up late for (work, a date, picking up a child)? Insurance companies don't take responsibility for acts of God. Neither must writers. Use storms, landslides, earthquakes. These things happen without notice.
CHARACTER. How do your characters respond to different weather events? Use them to reveal moods, fears, hopes, or long-lost dreams. Maybe every time it rains, your character is reminded of the day his dog died. Or whenever she sees a rainbow, she makes a wish. Don't go overboard. No one likes a cliche. Subtlety is your best move.
SETTING. Last but not least, we must talk about the obvious. Depending on where your story is set, some weather events just won't come up. It's unlikely an earthquake will hit in Iowa or that a monsoon will flood Arizona. If you are writing realistic fiction, study the weather in the area where your story is set. You might discover some freak storm that hit years back. You could use that for a tragic backstory, or it could be the reason for your character's behavior or motivation.
That's my story. What's yours?
Please share your ideas in the comment section below! Happy writing :)
The turn of weather is a great time to take your writing through a poetic carwash. Fall is my absolute favorite season, and I love the poetry inspired by the leaves' changing colors, the biting cold that whips through my hair, and the dulling sun in the late afternoon sky.
Take a moment to visit these sites, read some verse, and give your writing a seasonal lift.
Here are my go-to sites and a few seasonal writings that offer dimensional imagery and language to my writing.
1. The Poetry Foundation
Grace Paley's Autumn.
2. Academy of American Poets
Noah Falck's from "You are in Nearly Every Future"
3. The Poem Hunter
John Keats' Ode to Autumn (I recommend you mute the computer-generated narration)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's The Autumn
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo and need an infusion of color and life or if you simply wish to take in the beauty of this season, discover again the color of poetry and let it drench your prose with folly.
Share your whimsy here. Do you have a favorite verse or site you like? I'd love to know.
No matter how far afield I travel, I always return to the senses. This past week, my creative writing students explored writing about sensory detail by describing their hair. (As soon as I have parent consent forms signed, you will be able to read their amazing work.)
We spent time old school talking about the five senses and listing words a writer might use to evoke these senses. Next, we took a color walk to capture all we could find around campus of a specific color. Finally, we closed our eyes and listened to the sounds in the building and room. We even plugged our ears and closed our eyes to see what me might smell.
By the end of the week, students were ready to hone in on one idea and explore their senses. I read them "Hairs" from Sandra Cisneros' THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET to inspire them.
If you want to help your writing come alive, tap into the senses. Five easy ways to add detail to your writing.
1. Sight: select one visual piece of your story (a building, bench, street, tree; something minor). List ten qualities that describe it. Choose three and exaggerate them. Come up with a metaphor to add dimension. (EX: In winter, her neighbor's tree bent like an old woman, dragging its limbs along the tired sidewalk.)
2. Sound: as above, but this time you are finding something your character will hear. (EX: The wheels thumped along the pavement, a steady heartbeat in the night.)
3. Taste: as above, but maybe applying taste to something one wouldn't normally put in their mouth. (EX: I could taste the assignment. Its bitterness coated the tip of my tongue, and I wanted to spit it out onto the just waxed classroom floor.)
4. Smell: as the taste exercise. (EX: His angry words burned in my nostrils; their ashiness wafted inside me.)
5. Texture: this sense offers a variety of options. (EX: Her jagged words cut through me. The night air caressed my cheeks.)
If you are in the middle of a project, find a scene that's lacking life. Infuse it with sensory detail. If this is your first draft, go crazy. Go overboard. Write drunk, edit sober. (Thanks, Mr. Hemingway.) Have fun.
Share your thoughts on the senses below. What works for you?
Sitting down to write for hours sends many authors into a prison-like world. We fall into a spiraling abyss of fantasy and imagination as we search for the right words to convey our stories. More often than not, these tales began in the real world. Yet as writers we shut ourselves out of this world in order to dive deeper inside our imagination. We push away what's real in order to create our own realty. We become more and more detached.
We can't push it all away, though; we need to take much of it with us.
It's true that artists need to create a sensory deprivation in order to allow rich creative juices to flow freely; but at some point, we need to return to the here and now. We need to restock our library of imagination.
When I'm not writing - when I'm living my daily life - I try to be present to the sensory input around me. Each smell, taste and sound is a potential element in my next chapter. I try to take full advantage of this reality. Part of writing is observing what's real so that we can embed it in our stories of fiction.
When outside, be present to the sun's warming rays on your cool skin; embrace the vibratory rattle of a passing car's bass; savor the sweet squirt of juice as you bite into a tender orange; behold the bitter stench of skunk as it wafts through the backyard air. Writers must embrace each sensory experience so that we can recall it when needed in our stories. Try these ideas to heighten your senses.
The next time you are stuck in your story, step outside and feel the warm sun or bitter chill. Stand there and absorb it, embrace it, taste it, smell it. Bring it all into your tale so that your story comes alive.
Out west, over here on the left coast, in the dry deserts of California, we're having a drought. Oh, we had some torrential rains a few weeks back, but that was merely a drop in the bucket. Snow levels are at record lows, reservoirs are evaporating as we speak, and politicians are drafting water ration rules.
Droughts aren't fun. And for some reason, they seem to spring upon us water users like a tiger from the jungle. We heard about you, Ole Man Drought, but we never thought you'd actually show.
Sitting by my window as the sun filters gently across my writing desk, I realize there's something to learn here. Something to infuse my writing. Something to feed my plot.
How might a drought change events in my story? What would happen if there were a terrible rain storm that flooded the streets? What if my MC found herself caught in a rainstorm without protection? Who might show up to protect her?
I have a list of 27 possible scenarios from this "drought seed".
Nature has always played a role in my writing, but I failed to realize its ability to turn a plot. Nature is not a simple backdrop. Rain, drought, winds, snow can each play a role in the story. Nature is a character.
If we treat Nature as a character, imagine its possibilities. It no longer sits quietly in the background. It now has voice, dimension. Nature can have its own destiny. Nature does not need to be your central character, but it can show up now and again to place an unexpected twist or turn in your story.
Today, my character will walk outside in her summer attire expecting nothing but sunshine. She will be unpleasantly surprised as afternoon clouds arrive dark and heavy. Where can this sudden rainstorm take my plot? Where will it take yours?
Whenever I'm stuck in my writing, I take a moment to step outside. I join in as life's spectator and observe the real world around me.
Typically, most of us write inside, at a table, on a chair, maybe in bed. With a pen and paper, tablet or laptop, or a typewriter. Doesn't matter. We are set indoors with our 21st century tools.
That doesn't mean we are locked in. Everywhere I've set myself up for writing, I've arranged my desk at a window.
I need to see out so that I can grow what is within.
I'm not distracted. Rather, I'm inspired. And I'm reminded of what is real. This connection to the world keeps me tethered in my fantasy. I can stretch as far out as I need while keeping an anchor on what is real and possible.
If my character is stuck (read: I'm stuck), a gaze out my window at a car passing by or a small boy walking a big dog or postman carting a heavy bag usually does the trick. Life has given me a new event to help my plot along. If this particular character is searching for something, maybe a letter arrives in the mail. Or a child asks him to help find his lost dog. Or he crashes his car into a light post and a stranger who comes to help knows something about what it is he's searching for. Anything is possible. You are the magician; you just need to reach down inside that magic bag.
When you are stuck, look outside your window. Step outside your fixed world of metal and keyboards and paper and pens. If art is to imitate life, we must participate in life. Start off as the spectator, the rest will fall into place.
Something magical about the change of seasons. Like that moment the elevator meets its desired floor, the doors open, the cage settles, and you step out. It's a visible moment in time, unlike every other ordinary passing of seconds to minutes to hours that arrive and depart without fanfare.
Fall is over. Winter has arrived. Did you see it? Did you smell that instant when the earth offered its final tilt, the sun positioned itself just so? The solstice - an astronomical event that happens only twice each year. This is my 100th solstice. I mark the event with awe and humility.
I take this centennial celebration and embrace its magic, swallowing all of its beauty and mystery into the wondrous vessel of my being. Today, I am filled with magic. Today, this day of wonder. Let no moment pass without my knowing, that is my wish, that is my intention. Today, I am a snowflake, unique and ever-changing until I fall to earth. Today, I am suspended in the ethers, filled with possibilities yet unseen.