11 December 2017

Weather or Whether or Not

by Jan Grape

Jan Grape
Does weather ever play an important role in your stories or books. If so, how or why?

If a big flood or fire or hurricane is forecast is there any way for a murderer to take advantage of it?

I don't see why not. Many stories have been set on an island or in a location barely accessible during good weather and the author writes a big storm is coming and of course, everyone is trapped together with a murderer after Aunt Agatha is murdered in the kitchen.

It seems like I've read of murders taking place when an earthquake hit and maybe when a hurricane hit. And I'm fairly sure James Bond was trapped with a crew of bad guys when a snowstorm had taken place leaving him to have to ski out of danger. Of course, Fleming's books are considered thrillers more than mysteries.

Whether you write police stories or private Eye stories or Amateur detective stories does the weather ever play a big part in what you write? Or is the weather just incidental?

lightening strikes courtesy CDC

15 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

It was a dark and stormy night... -- I don't think weather plays a huge role in most of what I've written except for possibly the Santa Ana winds, which cause a lot of problems (like the fires we're having now) and also cause tempers to flare and people to get hot under the collar, literally.

I do remember in Ross Macdonald's The Underground Man that fire played a big part in the story. And your post makes me think I should take more advantage of the weather in the future, Jan.

Melodie Campbell said...

Yes - I use weather to create mood in my stories. I change weather to change the mood. It's done subtly, so as not to hit the reader over the head with it. But using the kind of cold that hurts your face in Canada, or the steamy high humidity we get in summer in Southern Ontario, can really make your reader feel uncomfortable. I do a whole workshop on creating atmosphere, that includes weather as part of it.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Jan,
Hope I can weather the 'I'm not a robot' rainclouds to post this.
In New Orleans, the weather is an important facet part of the setting. We have only two seasons - steamy hot and wet cold. Then we have street floodings and hurricanes. I seem to put the weather (lotta rain here) in most of my New Orleans stories and novels. Sometimes I does effect the plot and I like that because I rarely plan for it in my plotting.

Wow, it only took 11 extra clicks to prove I'm not R2D2.

Michael Bracken said...

In most of my stories, weather is incidental. I did, however, once write a ghost story that played against the genre's weather expectation: Rather than setting the story on a dark and stormy night, I set it in the blazing sun of a Texas mid-afternoon. There's not much scarier than a ghost seen in the bright light of day.

Steve Liskow said...

Interesting question, Jan.

Generally, I'd have to say "no," with two exceptions, both of them blizzards. I have an unsold short story about three teen-aged boys who get snowed in at a strip bar, and it was a deliberate attempt to make the weather a more definite presence. I think I'd just read an article on setting. I still like the story, but I've run out of places to send it.

The other was "The Kids Are All Right," in which my PI Zach Barnes ends up chasing the bad guys on a snow plow. I didn't know it was going to happen until about the fourth revision, but the book was a finalist for the Shamus for Best Indie Novel, so I guess it worked.

I'm considering changing the season of my current WIP, though, because I think the final confrontation will happen outside again. We'll see.

We can all name older works where the weather is vital, can't we: Ethan Frome, The Open Boat, To Build a Fire...

Robert Lopresti said...

Ed McBain often started his 87th Precinct novels with a description of the weather. Someone- I don't think it was him - said that since the city is a character in the stories he was beginning by describing its mood. THE PUSHER begins "Winter came in like an anarchist with a bomb."

Jan Grape said...

Rob, what a wonferful line. Wasn't familair with it. My all time one line favorite is: "The last camel died at noon." I think it's from THE KEY TO REBECCA. Weather isn't exactly mentioned but you know it's in hot hot desert if camels are dying off. Rather like hell.

Jan Grape said...

Many things can happen in snow. But since I've never lived in snow I can't write about it. However, I've read stories set in Alaska by Stabanow and suddenly aroused myself and I was freezing cold in my summer A/Ced house.

Jan Grape said...

We do have fast changing weather in TX we can use in our stories. The old saying about summer I think was a Civil War General, " if I owned hell and TX. I'd rent out Tx and live in hell."

Jan Grape said...

Outside can give more texture.

Jan Grape said...

Weather can change in Tx in almost a minutes time.

Jan Grape said...

I had more to my article but my Internet went crazy. Having snow in south TX this past week gave me this idea for my article. It snowed all around me but I did not get one snowflake. And I was so disappointed. Because ir was my favorite kind of snow. Little snow but gone by noon.

Eve Fisher said...

I use weather a lot because here in South Dakota, what with blizzards and tornadoes, weather really matters. I even used weather as a murder weapon in "Drifts" (AHMM, Jan/Feb 2006).

Leigh Lundin said...

Jan, I finally recalled the author's name I was trying to think of. Elmore Leonard‘s 10 Rules of Writing start with #1: Never open a book with weather.

Naturally, a number of others disagree!

Anonymous said...

Without a doubt, weather plays a role. My books are set in Alaska. Light/dark, warm/cold. We are part of the land and the land is part of us.