“It was a dark and stormy night….” This phrase elicits groans from most writers. However, this story beginning sets the time and an element about location that can slip away from fiction writers, i.e. the weather. Each location has its own climate, and writers need to pay attention to that aspect of location, and use it to their advantage.
In the early drafts of Perceval, I didn’t think much about the weather in Vienna or Amsterdam, the two locations for Evan’s story in that novel. The story takes place over the summer. I liked the idea of beautiful weather everyday so I could focus on other things. Big mistake! Maybe if the story occurred in Southern California my no-weather idea would make sense but not in Vienna or Amsterdam. I finally realized that I needed to research the weather during the summer in these two cities.
After doing the research, I then had decisions to make: how could I use the weather to reflect the future? How could I use it to reflect on a character? Or situation? What about unusual weather? Does Evan think much about the weather? That last turned out to be a surprisingly interesting question. Evan is a runner, so he pays attention to temperature, humidity, wind speed, and precipitation all of which could affect his body on a run. It makes him more aware of the weather when he’s not preparing to run.
Since Perceval is in 2048, I wanted the weather to be a bit off to reflect environmental change. Austria is landlocked. I decided early on that the summer of 2048 would be a searingly hot one, and everyone would be on edge waiting for rain to break the drought. But Amsterdam, with its coastal location, would have milder, pleasanter weather while Evan is there. Maybe even some fog at night.
In the early drafts, I wrote in a massive thunderstorm fairly early in the story. As I worked on the plot and character development, I realized that storm needed to howl and hail much later, after Evan returns from Amsterdam. Then I decided he needed to be outdoors in it, unprotected from the wind and lightning, and chased by cops. Now the storm underscores the absolutely stupid mistake Evan has made that puts him in the police’s sights. It forces him to improvise in order to elude the police. To my surprise, that improvisation ended up costing him as he closes in on what he wants.
In the subsequent novels in Evan’s story, I’ve paid more attention from the beginning to the weather. In Novel 2, the story opens in Buenos Aires on a balmy summer night. The weather matches the city’s peaceful atmosphere and upbeat personality. But when Evan returns to Vienna, it’s winter — frigid, snowy, almost arctic — reflecting the city’s situation and Evan’s. Later in the story, in Copenhagen, he encounters a mild winter, but snowy nonetheless. In Novel 3, which begins in Finland, it’s early autumn, mild and colorful. Vienna’s autumn is quite warm, as is the autumn on the Mediterranean island that plays a prominent role in this book. The story ends in St. Petersburg, Russia, where winter fast approaches. I haven’t written that far so I’m not certain if or how weather will influence Evan and his story’s outcome in that book.
We live and write on a planet that possesses an active climate. While including weather in a melodramatic way probably won’t help a story, giving it a minor, revelatory role can deepen and enrich a story or character. And Evan’s from Minnesota so he’s quite familiar with blizzards and tornadoes….