Thursday, September 30, 2010

Evocative weather

How does weather influence characters' actions and motivations?

This week, after the Equinox, it has been strangely warm for fall days of equal length
in Massachusetts. The light has a slant that, when the air is crisp and clear, brings back memories of new school shoes and the taste of pears in my lunchbox. My personal memories of those aromas come from southern California, but New England fall also brought the start of school for my two sons (although this year is the very last one of those years, John David's senior year at university...), and similar smells. Fresh notebooks. Different soccer uniforms. New expectations.

But when it's 72 degrees at 6 in the morning, the air is hazy and it's just getting light, I am right back in Bamako, Mali, or Ougadougou, West Africa. Those are the only places I have lived that were closer than 15 degrees of latitude to the equator. All year round, dark falls within 30 minutes of 6 pm and gets light within 30 minutes of 6 am. Dawns and twilights are wicked short (as we say in Boston). And that hazy air has nothing crisp about it. By 7:30 it's almost too hot to play tennis, or to go for a run, as if anybody on the streets there needs to run for exercise. They burn enough calories in just living.

Barometric pressure rising or falling can affect moods and health. Humid air or dry, winds or lack thereof, can bring us instantly to another time, another place, another emotion. Living in a rainy climate or an arid one (or one that alternates half years between each), could have a huge effect on a (fictional, let's say) character's stability.

While I know I include descriptions of the local weather in my scenes, and try to make sure it matches the mood and action of the scene, I'm not sure I have fully utilized the effect of weather memories on my characters' actions and motivations. Could Thomas be driven over the edge by the extra-long winter weather this year because of a bitter-cold mistreatment by a departed stepfather? Maybe Virgie's inquisitive, generous nature is a result of growing up in a warm-climate village.

What are your associations with weather and emotion? Do you have favorite fictional characters who act (or not) in accordance with barometric pressure? Have you written any stormy characters who only show up in inclement weather?

Drop in and share, while we enjoy a few hurricane remnants North of Boston tomorrow.


  1. This weather makes me slow and angry for some reason. This is like Louisiana. Warm, humid and not so pretty. Lots of clouds behind waving gum trees. Not pleasant. Seems to be clearing out now somewhat (Thursday night), but still too much. This is like what Lily told me Ghana was like. Ocean breezes mixed with high humidity. I guess it's pre hurricane weather, which I really dislike! Found some great drawings from 30 years ago, though, so am feeling better than the weather.

  2. Living in northern, MN, with very long, long dark evenings, brings depression to many people. It will put some people over the age, making them less stable especially when the weather is well below zero. The combination of extreme cold plus the short daylight hours causes much anxiety and depression. Yes, weather can sure can it's toll on almost anyone.

  3. Wayne Dyer said we shouldn't complain about weather. A "how to write fiction" book said not to write about weather. My view, however, is that as a native Central Texan, I have the right and the duty to say what I think about the weather. We all do it. It's traditional. So my characters fan their sweat-sticky faces while standing at a graveside service in May, get prickly and out of sorts in June, exhibit nasty tempers throughout July and August, and freeze half to death but become downright perky in October when the nighttime temperature drops into the 60s. They make wistful mention of the need for rain or the need for rain to stop. Anxiety prompts them to check forecasts in November to see whether the begonia can spend the night on the porch and in January to see whether the faucets should be opened to drip all night.

    The story "August Heat" comes to mind as an example of weather on emotion. And Scout's description of Maycomb, where the summer heat slows time for children and heightens emotion in a packed courtroom.