Narrative Weather

fine or foul, it sets the tone and marks the time

Why is weather so often important in narrative? First, perhaps, because it throws us vividly, physically into the author's imagined setting and situations. It also helps mark the passage of time in a way closer to our actual experience than the constructs of clocks and calendars.  Perhaps most importantly, the raw power of the natural forces that weather encompasses – vast compared to the puniness of individuals – can dramatically embody and amplify the emotions of characters and the heedlessness of fate.  In the following three examples, weather is of paramount importance to the telling of the story, in very different ways.

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," says Mrs. Ramsay in the opening line of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, setting up the disappointed promise of the book's first section.  But of course, by nightfall (in Time Passes, Chapter 2), "a thin rain drumming on the roof a downpouring of immense darkness began." Throughout the novel, weather — fine or inclement, and not necessarily especially dramatic — is a constant, essential aspect of the story, critical to our understanding of the Ramsay's world, their lives, the passage of time and perseverance of beauty in the face of death and decay. 

The typhoon toward the end of Moby-Dick is something Melville revels in, lingering over it in various ways across several chapters, including thunder and lightning in the blocking of the brief, play-form Chapter 122, and using its effects — from St. Elmo's fire glowing at the tips of the masts to the reversal of the magnetization of the Pequod's compass needle by lightning strike — to suggest the wrongness of Ahab's maniacal quest.


In Joyce's "The Dead," the Misses Morkan's annual dance takes place inside, where everything is warm, lively, aswirl with humanity and life, but throughout the story, the weather outside is cold, elemental, inhospitable to life or love, from the drenching winter rain in which, decades before, Michael Furey stood, catching perhaps his death as he testified his love for Gretta, to the numbing snow that has settled in by the end of the party:  "snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. " 


Use recurring references to weather to show movement through time, or reveal some emerging truth. Try leaning  on climate in your narrative rather than explaining your characters' emotions. Think about weather clichés — the dark and stormy night — and try to subvert them, avoid them, go beyond them.