Friday, 14 August 2009

Turned Out Nice Again

I’ve just discovered instant Latte, and am in coffee-heaven-in-my-own-kitchen. So, this morning I invite you to: open sachet at one end (do they really have to say that?), tip contents into cup (or that?), add hot-but-not-boiling water, stir well, and enjoy - while I talk about the weather.

Having ventured forth with our tent several times this year, the children and I have been closer than usual to the weather, and the unavoidable effect it can have on our lives. So far we've spent a rainy week in Cornwall, a mixed weekend in Kent, and a long weekend in Wiltshire, during which we were blessed with weather so idyllic I might have been persuaded to believe that I could spend my whole life under canvas.

And so, it occurred to me that we read about characters feeling the sun on their faces, the wind in the hair and the chill in their bones… but what else? Sometimes, the weather is integral to a story, as in Lionel Davidson’s Kolomsky Heights (where it never gets above -40C), or Desmond Bagley’s Flyaway (where it never gets below +40C); but more often, it seems that watching the-rain-sliding-down-the-window (or whatever) is little more than something for a character to do when he’s bored with inspecting his fingernails.

Perhaps I’m just a weather-nerd. Perhaps it shouldn’t really feature in fiction. Hell, it features enough in real life, so who wants to read about it too? Or write about it? And to do it justice, wouldn’t characters have to start every conversation with, “Ooo, turned out nice again?” or, “It’s supposed to be better tomorrow.” No, even I'm not that interested, but I do like seeing well-written weather.

But I wonder if we just filter it out a bit, and thus lose the experience of it. I’m not meaning the sun-on-face/wind-in-hair thing, but its more abstract effects on the person: the suffering caused by stepping in a puddle, and having one foot wet all day (when the other is dry); or being kept awake by a wind that repeatedly lifts the door knocker (and lets it go again); or the pain of thawing fingers, chilled lungs, or sunburn? When was the last time you read about a character with sunburn? (Not including chick-lit!)

So, what’s the weather like with you this morning/evening, and would you like to see more of it? Or not?

17 comments:

Debs said...

I definately need a strong coffee this morning to wake me up a bit.

Great post, and a good point too. The weather is so important to most of us and I always want to know what it's going to be like the next day. Sad, moi?

I think it can be very effective when used well in a novel as it can help with setting a certain mood.

liz fenwick said...

The day hasn't yet decided what it will do here in Cornwall - not an unusual situation I might add.

As I write about Cornwall - weather is intrigal to the landscape and the landscape is part of what inspires me. I can look across the Helford on a beautiful and feel the world is mine. On a grey day I may be meloncoly and stuke by the graceful lines of the headland....

I think weather in books can be useful in so many ways - it can set the scene (it was a dark and stormy night) or reflect the internal thoughts of the character or even distate the choice of clothing...I recently read Jamaica Inn and du Maurier is a master at using weather in this book(must try and learn more)!

Another great post!

P.S. Yesterday I finished the big edit of ACH so I am having 2 days off to reconnect with my kids who have felt that I have disowned them before one last read through and shipping into the postal chaos to the RNA's NWS. So will sot NR blog out!

Fia said...

I think I go on about the weather too much in my book and I have a character with sun burn. Oh dear, should I change that?:)

Leatherdykeuk said...

Oops! I didn't read the instructions properly and opened both ends. Now you have instant latte powder all over the floor. Is there a mop?

Excellent points, Leigh.

I generally mention the weather in relation to something else -- harold an Lucy running from the kitchen to the van to avoid getting wet, for example -- but I should keep a tab on it.

Flowerpot said...

I think weather is very important but it does depend what kind of novel you're writing I suppose. Certainly is for mine. And I'd second what Liz said about Daphne du M - she s a real master (mistress?) of the way in which to use weather to create atmosphere.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Traditional Scottish summer here. Rain. Wind. Bleurgh.

Like everything else, I try only to use it if it is strictly relevant to the story. In some cases it is more relevant than others. Anything that takes place outside is going to be affected by the weather, even if it is indirect (e.g. the need to wear a coat making it more difficult to run, or a hat obscuring someone's identity). In the case of a couple of books I wrote, they lead to a third story which takes place in a certain location and at a certain time and, in real life, that town was flooded just then so I am slowly replotting the whole thing to take that into account. And the fantasy novel I finished earlier in the year moves the characters from a sub-tropical location, through a desert and into the mountains during the monsoon so weather did play a major part.

We are perhaps a little more insulated from the effects of the weather these days, especially in urban settings, but it still has a bearing on our emotions and on the things we do. As with landscape, it is one of those ever present background characters whose role is always reflected in the foreground characters.

JJ Beattie said...

Ah weather. Yes, I love it, though I worry it's a bit of an obvious metaphor. It's hot in my novel although the MC has come from Bangkok... this has just made me realise that the house (in which most of the drama takes place) should be cool... Not even such close humid weather can warm it up.

I remember Husband telling me about seeing the film of A Streetcar Named Desire. He said it was so wonderfully atmospheric in showing us the tropical heat that he felt hot just watching it. I keep meaning to watch it to see how the director (and writer) did that.

ChrisH said...

Interesting. The first book that popped into my head when I read this was, 'Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow', and then I thought of Jilly Cooper who's so good at conveying her characters' moods through their perception of the weather/nature. Personally I find what I call, 'The Beauty of Nature' writing very tough. I think it's hard to pull off as there are so many cliches to avoid.

On a separate note we seem, as a group, to be having quite a shake-up at the moment and I'm not quite sure who's in and who's out. Perhaps a quick roll-call is in order?

Rowan Coleman said...

I love this post Leigh, weather/atmosphere/physical conditions are often important in my books. In the latest one a hot oppressive summer is key to how the character feels and in my last teen novel, set in a new town the weather is key to the plot ( can't tell you how!) I often try to write the book to be set around the time that it will be pblished (I don't know why) But I do think about it a lot.

Cathy said...

I think the weather can be used very successfully to create atmosphere and add additional layers of meaning in a novel. Others have already named some excellent examples. But my heart does usually sink if I see a novel or story which starts with a paragraph about the weather...

Ellie said...

I've got cup of coffee and a biscuit (choc chip and hazlenut cookie), which is helping my afternoon along nicely!

The weather can be a really useful metaphor but I think you have to be careful that it doesn't turn out cliched (bad things happening in storms etc). It can also be a good outside influence on characters to upset their plans and nudge them off in different directions. I now have lots of ideas involving forgotten umbrellas and unseasonal clothing necessities...

Annieye said...

I like instant Latte!

I do tend to mention the weather and think it can help with setting the mood. I think it is a good idea to try and avoid the usual phrases though (like the dark and stormy night). I like your wet shoe idea, and the door knocker rattling all night would certainly add atmosphere.

Fia said...

Ellie - do you have a blog? I can't find it but then I can't find places even when I borrow the teenager's sat nav;

'Take the next right, take the next right.'

'Turn around, turn around!'

Me: 'No, no. Fxxx off'

HelenMHunt said...

I'm just glad to be seeing weather rather than the inside of a hospital ward!

My novel covers a period of about three months starting in cold weather (I'm thinking February). It then gets slowly warmer as the story continues.

I haven't really concentrated on the timeline and this aspect and I need to do that on the upcoming major edit, so thanks for the timely reminder.

Liane Spicer said...

There's no escaping it in fiction, just like there's no escaping it in real life. It's integral to setting, and I see setting as almost an important aspect of fiction as character.

Where would the literature be without pathetic fallacy, nature in sympathy with man, etc etc? "So foul and fair a day I have not seen..." just resonates with ambience.

I admit that overkill and cliches can be off-putting, though.

Caroline said...

Interesting post. My 3rd novel is set in Malta so the weather is important, but I think I need to look at it all again!

Sunny here today.

Ellie said...

Hi Fia, yes I do: http://lazyperfectionista.blogspot.com/

And I also have no sense of direction - I managed to go right instead of left during my driving test!