Don’t worry, of course I don’t mean the weather outside (although I could complain about the serious lack of snow for hours. It’s winter, it’s almost Christmas, I want WHITE, not green, grey and brown!).
Instead, let’s talk about weather in a novel.
In the Romance period, there was just no way around lengthy weather descriptions, because they served two purposes: to show the power and beauty of nature, and – even more importantly – to mirror the emotions of the characters. There was always a raging storm outside when the characters had an argument, and sad good-byes tended to take place in the rain.
The Romance period is of course over, but the weather-traditions are still going strong. I’m sure everyone can picture at least a dozen movies where a thunderstorm starts or the sun peeks through the clouds in just the right moment, and if done right, it can be a very powerful image and add immensely to the atmosphere (what’s a black-and-white horror movie with thunder and lightning, after all?).
But there are also directors and writers who want to avoid focussing the weather at all costs. Why? Well, because they were told to. Showing the weather is considered outdated, too obvious, too cliche.
I myself am not a big fan of Romance period writing, and I’m very afraid of overusing cliches. This is why for a long time, I tried to keep weather out of my stories, or only mention it in passing, careful not to make it too heavy on implied meaning.
You are just standing there, staring out of the window in intense concentration, as if you hadn’t even noticed me. The rain has stopped, but the clouds are still hanging there, heavy and dark.
Yes, I know, the ‘staring out of the window’ part is such a cliche. I was aware of that when writing (and it comes up in the middle of the story, not right in the beginning, avoiding the even bigger cliche). So I was expecting to be maybe called out on the ‘window’ part, but instead I got criticm for the weather. “That is another case of the weather matching/illustrating the character’s mood, right? I wouldn’t do that, it’s so overused.”
I wasn’t expecting this specific criticism, because it was not suppossed to be a description of the weather outside (which I never mention in the story), but instead a metaphor (the two characters had a massive argument earlier, and I wanted to illustrate the feeling of “well, the argument is over, but the mood is still heavy”).
Is a weather metaphor as bad a cliche as an actual weather desciption? Have people gotten oversensitive? Or is something else the actual problem?
After all, there are also writing guides telling you that you should – by all means – add weather to your novel. Not only to make it more real, but also to mirror the moods of your characters. I just recently came across another link to such a blog post on my Facebook feed.
Well, in my opinion, the truth – as always – is in the middle.
Weather is always a good thing to add if you want to make your novel or story realistic. Life happens, and weather is part of it. It can also make for good descptions that help the reader to picture the scene or the setting more vividly or much easier. Of course it’s one of the things you shouldn’t do all the time, because lenthy descriptions can always get boring.
And the same is true if you use weather with the intention to provide insight into the characters or to give a deeper meaning to a scene. However, subtlety plays a big part here. Don’t overuse it, save it for the scenes when it really matters. Make sure it fits the story (a snowstorm in June is highly unlikely, as is a sandstorm in an arctic setting) and your style of writing. Don’t forget to add a dash of originality – why use cliches that everyone else uses, when you can give it your own unique twist that perfectly fits your style and your story?
And once again, make it subtle. It should be carefully crafted, all about the mood, the atmosphere, not the equivalent of “he was crying, and the sky was crying with him – GET IT? CAUSE RAIN IS LIKE TEARS.”
I once wrote a scene where a character made a confession to his best friend, which his friend took badly. He ran out of the room, out of the building even, and ended up outside – in the pouring rain.
Yes, I know, cliche. That alarm in my head went off instantly, too. But I still decided to write the scene exactly like this, not just because it played like this on my mind (where all my scenes start like little mental movies), but also because the implied meaning was a more subtle one: I didn’t choose the rain to show how sad the character was, or to illustrate the argument. I wanted to show how much the character was affected by the confession – so much that he just wanted to get away, even if that meant standing outside in the pouring rain.
And finally, for NaNoWriMo, I worked on a project that had rain already in its title (“Blood and Rain” – which is the working title, but I want the final version to be something close to that). The reason for that decision is that rain is featured frequently in the story, so much so that it becomes a symbol. And a very complex one at that. No, the rain does not represent sadness, depression or drama. In fact, it is less about the rain itself, and more about the attitude towards it. More precisely, it serves to show the change of mind the main character goes through.
In the beginning, the character enters a country he is not fond of. He’s also not fond of rain. The country is associated with lots of rain (which is partly true, partly just a self-fulfilling prophecy – think of holidays Great Britain), so he takes the seemingly constant rain as further proof why it’s impossible to like that country.
But the more he travels and the more he sees, the more he discovers – much to his surprise – that there is a lot to like. He also finds himself falling for a person native to that country. So bit by bit, rain gets a different meaning to him; so much so that at one point of the story, he registers sunshine with annoyed confusion – When they stepped outside, they were greeted by sunshine, so bright it was almost blinding. He couldn’t stop thinking that this was wrong. So completely, utterly wrong – which is later even turning into pensive sadness: Why was it not raining? He missed the rain.
Of course it’s no longer the weather he is talking about. The rain, the country, the person he is in love with – they all became very closely connected; so that now by saying he misses the rain, he is actually saying he misses one specific person. (And it’s worth noting that he wouldn’t be caught dead actually admitting that.)
You can say that’s too subtle. Or you can say it’s too obviously cliche. It’s a matter of personal taste and preference – just like the weather itself.