marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

weatherwise

How to tell you're a writer during a hurricane. . . .


Well, for the hurricane I did, first of all, load up the freezer and frig with things full of water so as to lend them thermal inertia.  Brought a flashlight to work so I didn't have to choose between going back out into the storm or climbing the stairs from the garage in the dark.  Traffic was lovely this morning, and the commute was shorter than usual.  I knew I was leaving early -- the company web site said we would close at 3:30 so we could get home by daylight -- but then the email went out:  we close at noon.  A co-worker in the next cubicle, talking to a customer, told him that the highways were closing at 1pm.  I was out of there at noon, and turned out, didn't need the flashlight.  Yet.

And when I looked out the window, the first thing I noted was indeed that the trees aren't bending as far as they had during Irene, thus far.  But the second thing I noted was that you couldn't really just slip it into a story.  Even a novel.

Diana Wynne Jones gives Fantasyland a lot of grief in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland about the lack of weather, and about other little inconveniences of life such as your horse's going lame.  But -- these things are either dead weight in the novel, or plot-significant, or possibly lyric passages of description for the weather.  Description you can get away with, if it is short and you are eloquent, and it can even be useful local color.  But for the others, the stupidity of deadweight is, I hope, self-evident.  And the problem with plot-significant is that they make the hand of the Author visible like little else.  Contrary to what some how-to-write books say, while it's true that readers give more tolerance to coincidences that go against the main characters than those that go for them, it is not true that their tolerance for such coincidences are infinite; you come to the point where they will say, "You're just hosing down the characters."

Some works get away with it.  A bildungsroman, for instance, or a mundane tale of every day events, which tend to have a less tightly drawn plot, can even weave in a terrible storm during the plot, providing it has consequences enough to infiltrate the events.  Subtlety is needed, though.  The works where it can fit are not sympathetic to things that push the plot along, because part of the point of them is the meandering flow of incidents.

It can also work as an inciting incident.  One of Andre Norton's novels, The Opal-Eyed Fan, opens with the heroine being saved from shipwreck during a storm.  Or as the driving force of an entire novel.

Local color can be good.  Frosty morning, dingy days, a splatter of rain -- it can make the world seem real.  It can also be used for making the setting fit the events, either straightforwardly or ironically, like bad news delivered in a gray day during a downpour, or in a bright sunshiny day filled with flowers.  But I don't think even the most dramatic events, for good or for evil, could really justify a hurricane as backdrop.
Tags: beginnings, bildungsroman, local color, setting (scene), travel, world-building: weather
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