Thursday, January 15, 2009

Weather, A Plot Element?

By Nichole Giles

Last week I mentioned my critique group and our adventure with a recent storm. I have to be honest, though it was somewhat painful to dig my friends out of the snow, it was also sort of fun. (Sorry, Keith!) I mean, think about it. A bunch of full-grown adults, who would never voluntarily go outside during the night to play around in the freezing winter weather, out there anyway, digging, throwing snow, and getting soaked. It reminded me a little bit about a scene in the movie, Jack Frost. You know, the one where the dad wakes his son up in the middle of the night because it’s snowing and he wants someone to build a snowman with him? Of course, the snowman eventually becomes…well, I better not ruin it if you haven’t seen the show (which I recommend, by the way, it’s awesome—but sad). Anyway, that reminder made the weather at my house a little more bearable.

Isn’t it funny the things that stick in our minds about certain movies or books? One of my favorite books is set in the Caribbean, where the main characters are scuba divers and the biggest dangers are pirates and sharks…both of which they meet at some point. But weather played a key role to the story.

Two days after the snow incident at my house, I hopped a plane to Texas to visit my sister and her little family. The weather where she lives is very different. Not only was there no snow, but the day I arrived was actually balmy. The temperature rose above seventy degrees—in the middle of January! The sun shone brightly, glinting off of everything it touched, and a warm breeze lifted my hair away from my shoulders. What a difference!

Imagine how happy I was to finally see the sun, and for that matter, the ground under my feet. Not only did I not bring a coat, I got to wear my flip-flops! But Texas has scary weather issues too. Like tornadoes and large storms from has-been hurricanes.

As my eyes searched the sky, I realized that everywhere I go a new plot possibility can rear its head. The location setting of my story has the potential to add additional conflict, or at least a memorable scene. Come to think of it, the addition of new characters can also have this effect. Like the African guy sitting across the aisle from me on the plane, speaking an undecipherable language into his cell phone and wearing shoes with strange looking toes. Who could he be and why is he making a cameo in my newest book? And how did he come to be on the same plane as my character? (Okay, not really, but I might use him somewhere…)

If you really want to add tension to your writing, think about conjuring up a snowstorm, tornado, hurricane, forest fire, burning desert sun, or some other act of nature. Like magic, you could have a secondary arc, or more tension in the initial conflict. Not only that, but creating a weather phenomenon of that magnitude can pull you out of a writing slump you might have fallen in by living in a certain climate for too long. (One month of snow is too long for me, let alone two!)

As you’re writing, never let yourself miss obvious possibilities and common sense solutions. These are the things that have the potential to make or break your story. So take a break, shake things up, and add some undesirable weather into your scene. Just think of all the possibilities.

As for me, well, I’m back home, where there is tons of snow on the ground and icky, mucky air. But I spent a few great days in the sunshine, and boy, it was a nice change. I wonder if my characters need a change too? Hmm…


Keith Fisher said...

Greeat points. I like the idea of incorperating weather. so many of us forgety to write about it. we write whole chapters without telling about the weather my cahracters live in a perfect weather environment.

AS for the snow and gucky air. I have no sympathy. at leats you got out of it for awhile. in honor of summer I'm wearing my shorts this morning. you can guess I'm not going anywhere near the door.

Tristi Pinkston said...

It was way fun to play in the snow! We need to do it again, only without the pushing-of-cars part. How about a snowman?

Nichole Giles said...

Hey, a snowman might be fun. Shall we turn it into a character from one of our books? He he.

Thanks Keith, I'm glad you got your shorts out--but I hope you stayed inside all day!


Heather Justesen said...

What, your characters haven't experienced enough change through your book? Well, if you must, add a weather-related issue, but make sure you bring a looong segment to critique this week!