Weather Plays an Important Role in Your Novel.
Partly cloudy, scattered showers, severe thunderstorms. No, I'm not trying to predict the forecast I'm considering which elements that I'll need in my story to set the scene and create an environment eerie enough to not only satisfy the reader but also appropriate to commit a particular crime in. As writers we all know that setting is key, it's one of the first decisions we must decide on when we start a story. The next and most natural step is what the weather is like in this specific setting.
In most mysteries the weather plays a huge factor because it adds to the setting by defining a time and a place. Weather sometimes even drives the plot. Nothing creates a mysterious mood better than screaming winds, lightning ripping through the sky, and lashing rain. Don't get me wrong; a scorching afternoon in the middle of the desert with vultures circling overhead is creepy too. However, we've come to expect nasty weather to mean danger or horror. As mysteries writers we have to convey these frightening settings and the best way to do this is through sensory details. There's no better element to create this type of imagery than the weather because we can hear it, feel it, see it, and even taste it.
Since I'm a romantic suspense writer, stormy conditions also serve as a metaphorical function in my writing when it comes to sexuality. Sexuality becomes heightened in a stormy atmosphere because it mimics the passion and energy between the characters. A secluded cabin in stormy weather, crackling fire, naked bodies, rain pelting against the window, moans mixed with whipping wind ...you see what I'm getting at. The severe weather makes the scene all the more intense. The reader anticipates that the lovemaking is going to be as strong at the conditions looming outside. You can see how the two are intimately connected.
In my novel, Fatal Embrace, the location is the tree-studded mountains of Montana. I liked the isolation the mountains provided and I could also easily create a small, fictional town with Norman Rockwell-like charm within this setting too. The weather in Fatal Embrace, well, the weather was pretty much whatever I needed it to be at the time. My casual attitude about the climate got me into a little trouble and fortunately my editor caught my lack of consistency in weather conditions before Fatal Embrace went to print. My discrepancies were nothing major like having a sweltering afternoon one day and then three days later a blizzard. My inconsistencies were subtle and insignificant and although they were not harmful to the plot or characters, they did draw the reader from the story. Interrupting the reader is the worst thing we as writers can do. Here are a few of my editors comments that were dispersed throughout my manuscript upon its return for rewrite; "now it's snowing? I thought there were severe thunderstorms two days ago?" "Is it winter?" "If it rained that hard it would wash the footprints away." "What part of Montana is this?" "Why is there fog rolling over the valley?"
I'd focused so hard on the actual crime and investigation that I'd neglected to make sure the weather was just as tight as my plot. Guess what I had to do? That's right, I had to do some serious research and pick an actual location in Montana. Not necessarily a factual town, but I had to, at the very least, narrow it down to north, south, east, or west so I could then identify the weather conditions.
I found in my research that the eastern plains of Montana generally experienced more dramatic weather patterns than the west. Severe thunderstorms were also prone to this location. This area sounded like the type of setting I wanted because thunderstorms were riddled throughout my story. I also discovered that winter weather was extreme in this region. Cold winds would blow from the north creating a severe wind-chill factor. The setting in Fatal Embrace was an elite horse ranch and the characters were outside often with the horses and ranch life so weather that cold I wanted to avoid. Since my heroine was deathly afraid of thunderstorms, which was important part of the story, and I needed warm sunny days, I had to scrap the winter setting (and take out all the beautiful snowstorms), which had been the original time of year for my novel. With a little further investigation I discovered that severe thunderstorms were most likely to develop in the month of August. Viola, I had my time of year and it was even narrowed down to the month. Amazing what a little research can do.
Now that I had my location, climate, and conditions I could accurately weave the weather into my story. I knew that I could use strong winds, heavy rain, and even hail because all these condition often accompanied the thunderstorms that sprung up in this area. If I needed to have footprints in the mud I could. If I wanted the howling wind to drown out a specific sound or even create a peculiar noise I could do that too. If eerie lighting induced images were needed that also was possible. I now knew my limits.
Accurate weather description is very important so, don't overlook this vital part of the storytelling process. It adds description and realism, and it allows you to put the reader right where you want them. All things that are imperative to any story especially a mystery. Besides, don't all great mystery novels start with "It was a dark and stormy night..."