Want A More Believable Novel? Add A Little Weather
There’s a famous writing quote out there that forbids you from opening your book with the weather.
I must have taken that to heart, because after another read of my novel, I realised (with massive embarrassment) that instead of setting the book in London like planned, I accidentally created some magical place where IT NEVER RAINS.
Or snows, or is freezing, or sunny at all.
I do include a few nods here and there to explain my character’s actions – she walks quickly to get out of the cold, she pulls her coat around her, the breeze is light on her battered skin, etc, etc – but not enough to set the scene.
I don’t want the shape of the clouds or the sunlight filtering through her window to take over the book and detract from the actual story (I’m not going for a Thomas Hardy vibe any time soon), but I want it to be believable. And like any Brit will tell you, the weather, and being able to moan and marvel at it, is a big part of our lives.
Take the characters in your favourite book. Chances are you can imagine them pretty vividly in their surroundings. Like Harry, Ron and Hermione padding about in the snow around Hogsmeade, or Winston hurrying home to escape the cold in the first chapter of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The weather just feels part of the story, sometimes it’s in the background, sometimes it’s a main event that forces characters into actions, and often it’s used sporadically to show the passage of time. Either way, it helps to add some depth and ambience to your scenes and to make that world you’re creating that bit realer.
And with that huge realisation, my next task will be filling in that huge weather-shaped gap and trying to make my character’s habitat seem more like a place that actual people live. I’ll be sharing some top tips and massive mistakes for doing that soon.
In the meantime – if anyone says that you can’t start a book with weather, throw this piece of literary treasure at them:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
I’m certainly not going to argue with Mr Orwell any time soon, are you?