Friday, January 28th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Weather as a Plot Device

Snow flurries danced in my headlights this morning on my way to work. After two days of sleet and snow (and more than a foot of the fluffy white stuff) I’m not anxious for more. But it got me to thinking about extreme weather conditions and how they can affect the characters in your book.

The “formula” for an exciting story suggests that the author torture his main character with all kinds of dilemma, and then kick him when he’s down. If it’s an action book, we put the character in a dangerous situation: chased by bad guys. If it’s a historical romance, we’ll take away the heroine’s support system.

Usually, the genre will dictate (or at least suggest) what the conflict of the story will be.

How can we make weather one of these tortuous dilemmas the protagonist must ride out?

Rarely will weather be the conflict around which the story is based, though one exception is Jack London’s famous story, To Build a Fire. Written in 1902, it tells the story of a man whose arrogance leads him to his death in the face of a blizzard.

More often, weather is is used to as a prop to propel the story:

On the way to his engagement party at his fiance’s parent’s house, a man has an accident on an icy icy highway. Broken and comatose, he spends weeks in the hospital. The story is about what happens to the man (and perhaps his fiance) after the accident.

Here’s Your Prompt: Bring weather into your story as more than an inciting incident (leading to a car accident, for example.) Instead, make the weather take the part of an antagonist: “someone” the hero or heroine is required to fight against or endure. Write a scene — or several — describing your character’s fight against the heat or pouring rain (or any other weather). Show how he or she got into the situation, and how he or she got out.

What thoughts did your character think as he or she fought the elements? How did he or she feel? (Angry, scared, sad, anxious? Perhaps your character puts the blame squarely on someone else for their predicament. ) Show all of this. Don’t forget to use the character’s senses to relate what he or she is experiencing (what they saw, smelled, touched, tasted, etc.)

Keep in mind the remainder of your story when you choose this weather situation: what drove her to be in this place at this time? How did he wind up there? Whatever you choose, it’s got to be plausible to your story set up: in a historical romance, you can’t make the heroine venture out into a deluge — in which she gets swept away by flash floods – without a really good reason. But you can send her out in a crowded shopping district on an overly hot day after the maid pulls her corset too tight and she’s already feint from skipping breakfast.

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