Monday, May 23, 2011


Weather! It’s all we can think about. Post on Facebook about weather and watch the comments pile up in minutes. You’d have to get a Nobel Prize to compete with the most idle, off-the-cuff weather comment. Oh yes. So, what does that mean for a writer? And for a reader?

The estimable Elmore Leonard advises: Never start a book with the weather. So much for dark and stormy nights. If you can’t start a book with weather, what’s the role of weather in books? And not just weather, but the after effects: floods, fires, pestilence, you name it.

Personally, I love weather in books I am reading or writing. If the protagonist has sweat dripping down her back because she’s striding down steaming pavement in search of some clue, I feel like I’m there. Plus on a really hot day, that plucky sleuth would be entitled to an ice cream cone or two and I’m all for that. Let the reader taste the ice cream! What the hell! Start with ice cream. I’ll read that book.

In winter, one can take advantage of the stinging sleet and blinding snow from a blizzard or even that nasty freezing rain that makes any movement tricky. We’ve all been there and we can sympathize with the characters at the same time we appreciate not having to be outside coping ourselves.

This week’s rain has made me feel wonderful about being comfortable inside. I am reading Thomas Rendell Curran’s Death of a Lesser Man and it is dripping with atmosphere and rain too, of course, as it’s set in St. John’s. As Eric Stride gets wetter and has to use his new overcoat to cover a body, I feel even cozier curled up with my fluffy throw, my cuddly dogs and my cup of tea. Let the reader feel grateful to be warm and dry!

And authors, sometimes it’s nice to have a cold rivulet of rain trickle down your protagonist’s back. Gives one a sense of power. There’s got to be a payoff.

This month there are raging forest fires at the same time we have floods: that’s where the absence of rain will get us complainers. I am not sure how the weather team manages both extremes. Fire is horrible and it’s one of the biggest fears many of us have. Used in a book it can ratchet up the stakes and rivet the reader. Let the reader feel the hot breath of the flames and breathe the black smoke! That will get those pages turning. Trust me.

All to say, if you are writing, whatever the weather, you can harvest it to bring readers closer to living inside your story. And if I am reading, I will continue to feel your protagonist’s discomfort and/or fear.

So go ahead, start with weather, but maybe you should save the dramatic battle with the elements for the end. Go for the big payoff. Those of us sitting comfortably on our sofas or in our beds will enjoy it from a cushy distance.

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder, which hit the bookshelves last month, is brimming with names, no two the same.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, weather definitly helps the reader get more into the setting. It does help define the way a character acts or feels.