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 :)
Every writer working on a story can tell you about the time she woke at 3AM with the key to fixing a failing plot. Or maybe it was a brand new story idea that interrupted a peaceful slumber. Perhaps, it was just before sleep took over, and he was distracted with that scene in chapter whatever about the guy and that situation...
Whatever it may be, a writer's mind thrives when it's quiet, and it's no quieter than the middle of the night.
If you want to tap into the midnight creative juice pool, take the time to quiet your mind.
As we are sensory input and output machines, there are a variety of ways to discover your inner peace. Here are my two favorites.
Tune Out. Do your best to create a silent world around you. Buy some inexpensive squishy earplugs used to drown out snoring partners or spend more money on sound-reducing headphones. If they sound of your own breathing is too much. Plug yourself into the music of someone like LIQUID MIND.
Black Out. I'm not suggesting typing with a blindfold--but if you can do that, try it! At the very least, place yourself in a space with no art work, no windows to the outside world, and no Internet. Rid your outer mind of external visuals and fall deep within your own imagination. Remember when you were little, and you would hide under your bedcovers to read or draw? Recreate that child's world if you can.
Try both of these suggestions for a week or more and share your results. Is your writing any better? Any easier? Any different at all?
Sometimes, we need sensory input. If you are seeking that help, try these previous blogs:
Employing the senses
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.
What happens when you have nothing to say but you've committed yourself to saying something?
That's when you write crap.
That's when you need to write like you're at the edge of a cliff, like you're scared, like you're about to die, like you don't know what's going to happen next.
This isn't about writer's block. This isn't even about finding your muse. This is about unleashing your passion, firing up your writing, releasing that sludge of unimaginable creative juice clogging your critical writer's mind.
However you do it, whatever you call it, every artist--writer, poet, painter, sculptor, etc.--needs to find a way to stick his hand down his throat and withdraw that hairy, slimy, gritty clog of filth that's blocking the juice of his work.
Try it. Close your eyes. Shut out the world. Hide inside a closet. Drive to a remote patch of dirt far from lights, sounds, people, animals. Crawl inside a cave. Whatever you can manage. Get there. Go there. Now.
Are you there?
Did you bring a journal?
No. No. No. Where we're going, we don't need any journals.
Sit inside your proverbial cave, melt within the darkness, shut out the world. What do you most fear? See it. Smell it. Go further. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Go deeper. Get pissed. Fight for your life. Fight for your family. Fight for what you love. Curse, yell, scream, punch, spit.
Keep your eyes closed.
Unmelt. Find a light inside. Who is it? What is it? Feel its warmth. Offer your gratitude. Sense a peace. Let this love, warmth, and calm wrap around you. Feel yourself as whole.
Open your eyes.
Find your way back to your writing place. Tell your story to you. It may be a few sentences, a few paragraphs, a page or more. It may be a poem, scraps of sentences and words, or an essay. Structure and form are unimportant. This is for your eyes only.
Now go back to your project. Who wants this energy? Who needs it? Let your experience breathe new life into your writing. Don't judge. Don't expect. Let it have its own path.
Make this part of your writing ritual.
Share your journey.
I have been working on my third YA novel for nearly seven months. About four weeks ago, I reached a pivotal point, just over what I believe is the halfway mark. I’m still there. Okay, maybe I’ve added another 700 words or so.
Basically, I’m stuck (was stuck).
I usually have lots of tricks to unstick myself, but none of those seemed to be helping. Not until I tried something new.
I knew that.
Thing is, there’s no formula that works for every story. So although #8 worked this time, it might not work in my next roadblock. I’ve read some great ideas from fabulous writers that worked on other pieces, but not on this one.
That’s because I needed to do something different.
I plan on getting stuck again. In anticipation of this inevitable event, I decided to make a list of possible unstickers; more importantly, I wanted to share them with you.
1. Introduce a new character – major or minor, doesn’t matter; someone who will interact with your protagonist (or antagonist); could be a store clerk, a cop, long-lost cousin, former teacher, mailman.
2. Change the weather – move in storm clouds or clear them away; feel a sudden gust kick up; notice a funnel cloud in the distance.
3. Hear something – a dog bark, a siren, a scream, a laugh, glass breaking.
4. See something – a child’s bike, scattered playing cards, a woman’s scarf, the back of someone’s head, a red car turn the corner.
5. Smell something – burning, sweet, bitter.
6. Remember something – someone’s birthday, a dental appointment.
7. Forget something – locking the backdoor, charging a cell phone, someone’s birthday, a dental appointment.
8. Have your MC do something ordinary - ring the doorbell or the phone.
9. Have your MC do something unordinary – order a redeye instead of a decaf, stop in the dollar store instead of the usual liquor store.
10. Have your MC do something extraordinary – run in the street to save a kid from being hit, chase a purse-snatcher, scare away a bear.
Once you begin this new event or action, let it unfold. Continue adding detail – sensory detail – and watch where it takes your plot. You might be surprised.
I’m sure your wheels are turning and you’ve already thought of another handful to add to this list. Please do! Add your ideas in the comments section. What works for you?
Kids love to share memories. Nothing beats a 10-year-old saying, "When I was little...". Memory defies time; even though as we age, we define our memories by time.
When I was a kid...
Last year, I remember...
This reminds me of when I was in college, and...
Memory defines us. Memory is experience, emotion, friendship. It is the collection of moments that form who we were and who we have become. There is an importance to memory.
So it shouldn't really surprise me when a young child wants to share her memories. Memories connect us.
This past month, I've been fortunate to spend several hours visiting and reading to elementary students. I have shared various chapters from my middle grade narrative, "This Girl Climbs Trees". In one class, I was moved to laughter and tears as students shared memories of trees in their lives. One girl told of a beautiful lemon tree that sat in the yard, from which they did not remove the fruit but which offered a place of shade and beauty until her father cut it down. Another boy told of a tree at his former home that the neighbor insisted be removed due to its invasive roots and dead leaves on their property. This injustice troubled the boy, and he insisted his family's next home have a tree further from any neighbor's yard. They just planted a Birch.
They have a wide front yard.
The students' stories inspired me. I had no idea that Eliza Mills (the central character) had so much in common with real live kids. I made up Eliza. I made up the entire story. Yet real children (and adults) continue to share with me their memories of a favorite tree.
So I'd like to offer this challenge: In 150 words or less, write a memory of your tree. How did you connect with it? What do you now observe as the importance of this tree, this memory? Post your short passage here or on your own site. Paste a link in the comments below so that we can read it.
You might be surprised what comes up as you explore the importance of memory. I'll post mine this week. You have forever, but I will shout out my favorite on Twitter next Sunday. Please connect with me there and leave your Twitter handle here. If you are under 18, please let me know so you can get your own awesome shout out!
Thanks! Good luck.
My father keeps sending me pictures of his garden. He's retired, and he finds great joy tending to his rocks and shrubs. Since he lives in a drought sensitive zone, he plants only drought-tolerant flora. He calls his garden a "moonscape". It's true. The variety of cacti and rocks create a lunaresque impression. My father takes great pride in his creations.
You should also know that my father is a real rocket scientist, so a lunar landscape in his own backyard means something more to him. It's his chance to sit within an environment that 50 years ago he could only imagine. At 78, he has created his own life on the moon.
The other day, after viewing another digital photo, I realized something about my father's garden. Not only was it actually quite beautiful, it was also simple. Simple beauty. There was space between plants, and there were plants placed together that didn't really seem to go. But they did, in an odd exquisite sort of way.
Like I said, my father's a rocket scientist, not a gardener. He called in experts, landscapers, professionals to share their advice. He played with their ideas and mixed in his own creative design. Through some kind of symbiotic pairing, my father created this lovely lunar landscape where he can sit and reflect and simply be.
So it got me thinking about my writing. What can I learn from my father's garden? How is tending a garden like writing a novel?
I came up with a list of words that represent his process and results:
Simple. Time. Love. Joy. Pride. Creativity. Advice. Experts. Sharing.
I realized that writing is like gardening. You begin with love. You infuse creativity. You seek advice from experts and share with others. In the end - or even during - you feel a sense of joy and pride. All of this takes time. But most importantly, writing - like gardening - thrives with less. Simplicity is key.
Why do you write? How is your time writing like tending a garden? Or does another life task serve as a metaphor for you? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please share.
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?