Scroll to the bottom for links to my chat with author Kathrine Ramsland on the latest Podcast episode or to watch it on YouTube.
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Here they are: 5 tips for using weather in your story.
Why? Because using weather as an element in your plot can deepen themes, plot, and character development. It’s akin to your setting being a character in your story, a la Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.
Weather (like the setting) can such a significant role that its power can be huge. Storms and hurricanes and tornados, et al, can all be used to build suspense, but not only that, they can be very effective at creating parallels within your plot.
Author Katherine Ramsland, a self-proclaimed weather junkie, uses extreme weather events to do all this and more. In this week’s podcast, I talked with Katherine about her use of weather in her books (and her experience as a forensic psychologist, among other things). She’s an amazing woman with so much knowledge to impart. Take a listen to the Podcast or watch it on YouTube.
5 tips on incorporating weather into your story:
1. Believability. The first and possibly most important thing to consider is the believability factor. You cannot, for example, set a story in North Texas and throw in a hurricane. In Houston, yes. But in Dallas, no. There may be residual storms during or after a coastal hurricane which affect weather patterns in North Texas, but the hurricane itself can’t be set there. There is no ocean, right? So it won’t work. Seems like a no-brainer…and yet I’ve seen unrealistic elements like this in books.
In short, you must create a credible situation. You can’t just throw an ice storm into Arizona without precedence. Just because you want it to happen, or need it to for your plot, doesn’t mean it should or can happen that way. No, whatever weather events you incorporate must actually be able to occur in that region.
Where will your story take place? Look at the weather patterns, aberrant weather events, etc. If the location you choose doesn’t quite work, then change your location. Wait for it all to gel. Give expertise that grounds the weather event in that location for believability, giving context with a past weather event that gives a frame of believability.
2. Research: Once you know the weather event(s) you want, do your research. YouTube is a great resource for this. Watch videos of the weather event in action. Think about the senses.
- How does it sound before, during, and after?
- What does the air feel like?
- How about the water?
- Is there flooding?
The hurricane causes storm surges which, in turn, causes flooding. Think about the event itself, and the aftermath.
Katherine Ramsland talks about describing the sound of a hurricane as plastic being crumpled. She came up with this description based on a video she watched—and heard.
Research the weather patterns of your setting (see Tip #2). Know the region and the nuances of the weather there.
3. Forecasters: Pay attention to weather forecasters in the region/area in which your story is set.
- How do they describe what’s happening?
- What terminology do they use?
- What do they say and how do they say it?
- How is it presented?
Watch the weather maps to see how the weather event moves.
4. Build anticipation: Find places to use the weather for suspense. Build anticipation in the plot through the escalation of the weather event you’re using. A storm moving from prediction to realization and then to the aftermath can mirror (and enhance) the escalation of tension in your plot. Use the weather patterns to build anticipation and to keep readers on edge.
- Are your characters in danger because of the weather event?
- Are they trying to outrun it, or heading straight into it?
- How do their actions mirror what is happening in the plot, or with their own internal struggles?
5. Subliminal: Lay the weather events against the characters. Look at how it may reflect character growth, an internal struggle for the character, how it may mirror what they’re going through, and the escalation of the plot (am I going to get trapped?).
The weather can simply be happening around your characters, always in the background, yet worming its way into the reader’s subconscious.
How can you drive the plot or the character development in some way, parallel to the weather event? When you do this, it becomes a subliminal reflective element in your storytelling.
Be artful in how you write the weather and think about how it can reflect different elements in your story.
Make a focused study of your chosen weather pattern or the weather in your story’s setting and you will learn about it in a way that can enhance what you’re writing.
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