The weather can be more than a plot device to inconvenience your characters; it can also affect the mood of a scene, provide geographical hints, and show the steady (or shortened) progression of time. So why do so many writers neglect moody, expressive weather? Is it because we feel limited to Raining, Sunny, and Windy?
The Weather and the World
Now this isn’t to say Mother Nature will always provide a fitting emotional backdrop for your Hero’s journey, but do consider what is going on in the rest of the world. In the case of speculative fiction, is this a world in which there is severe global warming? Or is the opposite happening; the sun is dying, greenhouse gases have become nonexistent, and the ozone layer is thickening (at an alarming/unnatural rate)? (I was interested enough in my own question to Google it [click] and the effect could be unique in an apocalyptic setting.)
The atmosphere is always changing and the weather doesn’t consistently behave the way we need it to. Droughts can happen from a stretch of beautiful sunny days, and from drought can come fires. Don’t be afraid to push the limits of both “good” and “bad” weather.
It Must Be Accurate
An example of inaccurate weather I have read in fanfiction:
You’re writing a scene in which the characters come upon a clearing in the woods with a pond or other body of water. It is mid-afternoon and incredibly hot out. You want to have steam rolling off of the water’s surface; this seems to make sense because heat + water = evaporation, right? But harsh sunlight is not what causes this phenomenon.
Meteorologist Barbara McNaught Watson explains, “Bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds, and rivers, are much slower to cool down than land areas are.During clear, cool fall nights, the warmth of the land escapes into space. As the air over the land cools, it will drift over the warmer pond.A thin layer of air above the pond is warmed by the pond water. Water evaporates from the pond’s surface into this thin layer. The thin, warm, moist layer of air over the pond then mixes with the cooler air from the land. As it cools, condensation occurs and a fog forms.”
Put a little time into researching weather phenomena! Though some readers will not notice the technical details, others will be jolted from the storyworld by inaccurate settings. And even if accuracy is not a concern, it can be fun to brainstorm (see what I did there?) new challenges and backdrops in your story by involving the biggest player: The Weather.
Weather Scenarios and Possible Effects
General Temperature and Humidity
- Cold, dry
- Cold, wet
- Warm, dry
- Warm, wet or humid
Fog and Mist
- Mist off Water
- Mist off Pavement
- Foggy Roads
→ Trip postponed; have to pull over and stay in unfamiliar location.
→ Taking wrong turns, or turning completely off-road.
→ Hitting an animal.
- Fog on the Ocean
→ Dangerous sailing.
→ Might run into sea serpents. (or rocks.)
Rain and Storms
- Rain in the Sunshine
- Acid Rain (is not going to make skin drip off anyone’s bones, so research it!)
- Can affect visibility.
→ Sometimes dust particles can become acidic as well.
→ Loss of wildlife and plants.
→ Damaged materials that need to be repaired or replaced.
→ Loss of detail on stone and metal statues, monuments, and tombstones.
- Flash Floods and Mudslides
→ Displacement of people, homes, and animals. (eg: bears where there should be none.)
→ Loss of habitat.
→ Loss of food and supplies.
→ Loss of crops.
- Lightning Fires
- Dust and Sand Storms
→ Food and equipment tainted or destroyed.
→ Asthma and other respiratory problems.
→ Diseases and fungal spores could be carried for thousands of miles.
→ Aluminum, heavy metals, and chemicals can be spread.
- Famine and Disease
→ Death of Crop, Fauna, Flora, and Humankind.
- Electricity Generation
→ Many areas in the world rely on hydroelectric projects for electricity. Drought will reduce the amount of water stored in reservoirs behind dams, reducing the amount of power produced.
- Migration or Relocation
Let me know if this was helpful! And look out for a Part 2: describing the weather and its effects.