It is just as well we can’t control the weather. For one thing, we’d never agree with what it should be. Even if we all agreed we needed some rain, we’d never agree on the timing, yet alone how much should be “allowed” to fall. It would always inconvenience someone no matter when we selected it! For others the amount selected would be too little or too much.
Control is Not Always a Wonderful Thing
Then there’s temperature control. I know many who enjoy the higher temperatures. I’m not one of them and most dog owners would also want the thermostat turned down to a more temperate figure to help our four legged friends. This topic is fresh in the mind given the high temperatures over the weekend and I would have turned the thermostat down a few degrees had I been able to do so. (The makers of hayfever treatments would love me, I don’t think! Reduce the heat, you usually reduce the pollen count too).
Also, the weather can’t be used as a weapon either. If we could control it, the risk of that control falling into the hands of those who would abuse that control are far too high. Would you trust humanity enough not to abuse this? I wouldn’t. We don’t exactly have a great record on NOT abusing power, do we?
The weather is what it is then and, certainly for Britain, is a guaranteed topic for conversation. Everyone can moan about the weather. We all do too and this post is another example! So in a way the weather brings us together (which is not a bad thing).
Why Weather In Fiction is so often a cliche
Even in fiction, where you could argue the writer could control the weather, this is still not a good idea. Weather in stories is best used as a mood indicator (to contrast or match with the character you’re writing about). Why?
Mainly because weather has been used so much it has become a cliche, most famously in the opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his Victorian novel, Paul Clifford. See my earlier post – The Weather and Its Uses in Fiction – for more on this but you have to admit the following is a staggering opening line and not for good reasons!
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
Allowing for when this was written when styles were different, there is no way this would get past the editor’s pen now. The sentence is too long. The use of punctuation to keep this as one sentence comes across to me as cheating! The length of the sentence also means it doesn’t “flow” well.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s opening line has gone down in history then as a classic example of cliche and purple prose, two things writers are keen to avoid! I have written flash fiction stories in fewer words than this opening line from him and, yes, it is still a complete story.
The gull enjoyed the look of astonishment on the day tripper’s face, almost as much as the bird loved the stolen battered cod. Dessert was sorted. The gull went back and pinched the same tourist’s mint choc chip ice-cream.
Allison Symes (copyright 2018)
Showing and Telling in Fiction
The other issue with “it was a dark and stormy night” is it is a clear case of telling rather than showing. It works better if the writer can show us the character having to use a torch, getting soaked to the skin etc. We can also work out, without the writer having to tell us, what mood that character is likely to be in. We use our own experiences of getting caught out in heavy rain to identify with that character. As a result, you are more likely to read on to find out what happens next.
With my story you should be able to visualise the expression on that tourist’s face (and the gull’s as well! Can I claim the gull would crow? Okay, okay, no more bad puns, honestly, at least for this post).
I wonder how Mr Bulwer-Lytton would feel about having a fictional prize named after him where the idea is to come up with extreme examples of cliche and purple prose. I don’t think it is the kind of writing legacy I would want to leave behind!
Just to show that where you get more than one author, you get more than one opinion, Ernest Hemingway felt that writers should “remember to get the weather in your damn book – weather is very important”. So it’s down to how you do so then. I’d still only use it as outlined above.
I rarely use weather in my stories, partly because with flash fiction I’ve only got room for the pertinent details a reader has to know about my characters and their setting. The weather doesn’t usually come into that.
I will always believe what the character is like is far more important than any other detail in a story as it is the character which drives the story and not the other way round. In the plot -v- character debate, I’m firmly in the latter camp. Without good strong characters the best plot will fail. I’ve read well plotted books but not been gripped by the characters so have lost interest. Hmm…
An interesting character will keep me reading, even if at the end of the story, I feel the plot could have been better. The important thing is I have kept on reading. There is a fascination with what makes characters tick here that drives me both in reading and writing.
What If You Could Control the Weather for a Day?
My late mother always wished that rain could fall at night so everybody would be happy then. Well most people anyway. Umbrella makers would be out of business pretty soon but I don’t think mum considered that. She wouldn’t have worried about it either.
But over to you for something to consider:-
If for a day you were allowed to control the weather, what would you do and why? Which day of the week would you pick and why?
I’d like a sunny day, with a moderate temperature and a reasonable breeze, partly for my sake, my dog’s, and the sake of all the other dog walkers and hay fever sufferers in the area. I’d pick a Saturday as these would be good conditions for trips out and this could apply to the whole country.
So over to you… have fun and no wishing for heavy rain for Eastleigh or anything like that (if only because what goes around has a habit of coming around too!).
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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