Why is the weather always a topic of conversation in Britain? I think this is due to:-
1. We have such a variety of weather (and often in the space of one day), it simply has to be talked about. I’ve experienced a wide range of weather in the space of an hour especially when I’ve been in Scotland. They’re hardy souls there for a reason!
2. You want to make sure you are not the only one caught out by that torrential downpour. You’re not sure why but it makes you feel marginally better to know you weren’t alone in getting a thorough soaking! (Maybe it is because it will make you feel less of an idiot but that’s another story).
3. It isn’t politics (especially at the moment with Brexit). Not everyone wants to argue all the time.
4. It isn’t the religion -v- atheism debate. See 3 above.
5. Everyone can find something to say about the weather so it is a safe topic and most ages can join in.
6. Everyone knows there can be such a thing as localised weather so you want to see if anyone shared the same weather experience with you. I’ve known bright weather on my way round to the Hiltingbury Recreation Ground only for it to be raining while I’m at the park with the dog! On a more positive note, I’ve often seen double rainbows above the park and the shops at Ashdown Road. Sadly by the time I’ve got my phone out to take a picture, it’s gone. I’m also conscious of how that last sentence would have sounded only about 25 years ago – “you use a phone to take pictures – are you mad?”!
Weather In Fiction
In fiction, the weather is often used as a character in its own right. If the story is a moody one (Wuthering Heights is probably the best example), then the weather in the tale will reflect that.
It was highly appropriate A Christmas Carol is set when it is because that time of year is cold and reflects Scrooge’s cold heart before he has his ghostly visitors. Given a “proper” Christmas spirit of goodwill towards your fellow men is taken as read in the story and by most of us, whether we celebrate it or not, Scrooge’s cold heart is a strong contrast. And there is always the wonder of whether Scrooge will finally change his attitude this Christmas. There is no way this story would have worked as well if Dickens had set it against the backdrop of a warm, sunny day in August (albeit with a different title!). Weather (and implied weather) is important here.
Using weather in fiction should be done with caution. The line “It was a dark and stormy night” has not only gone down in literature as a cliche, it is mocked. Most writers don’t want their stories suffering that fate. There is a world of difference between laughing at a story and mocking it!
Does this mean you can’t use weather in fiction at all? Far from it but you do so in such a way your readers won’t switch off. You don’t want the “read it all before” reaction.
For example, “Janine splashed into the kitchen” shows you a character who is wet through without me having to tell you as in “Janine was wet through”. The former example is a much stronger image, you should be able to almost hear the splashing (!), and you can guess Janine is unlikely to be a happy bunny as a result of her soaking.
Using Weather in My Fiction
I don’t tend to use weather in my stories. It can be used to reflect mood but I prefer to show my characters’ moods in other ways (dialogue, thoughts, what they do and how they do it).
For weather to make a difference to the plot, it would have to be fairly dramatic and that too has become a cliche. It also smacks too much of “deus ex machina” (god in the machine) where something fantastic happens to change the way a story is going but is clearly contrived.
The goal of every writer is for every action to have a reaction and consequences but those things should arise naturally out of the action. There should be no sense of anything being contrived even though the story is made up! You don’t want anything that will make your reader sit up and say “never” as it will break the “willing suspension of disbelief” every reader needs before they read fiction. The story, no matter how fantastic the setting, still has to seem plausible if say the fantastic setting did or could exist somewhere. (The really good fantasy worlds you want to be able to exist somewhere! I quite liked the look of Middle Earth for example.).
Even when you are creating your own fantastical setting and some mention of the climate is needed to show your readers, you need to do it in such a way your audience is easily going to identify with it. For example, “This time of year on Withmaran, most species spent life underground as nobody fancied being roasted alive”. I don’t actually tell you the climate there, do I? I have conjured up an image for you though (and I also imply there has to be such a thing as seasons here too).
I do wonder if weather is more acceptable as a topic in poetry rather than prose. A good poem resonates with a reader, will often talk about experiences we can identify with, and well you can’t beat the weather for a shared universal experience. William Wordsworth was definitely on to something with his Daffodils poem which hints at weather with its mention of clouds!
And talking of emerging flowers, it was a real pleasure, when out and about with Lady recently, to see a whole host of not golden daffodils, but multi-coloured crocuses along Hocombe Road. That might not be such a romantic setting as Wordsworth’s beloved Lake District, but the crocuses lifted my spirits all the same!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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