A sorrowful sight I saw: dark night coming down prematurely, and sky and hills mingled in one bitter whirl of wind and suffocating snow.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Inspired by a tweet from @eric5301pub, I thought to pull together my thoughts regarding the use of weather in stories. It’s a fact that the weather can be a writer’s best friend.
Call it mood, call it atmosphere or vibe, or ambience, the elements can ‘show’ moods and create momentum in and around a story. It's a dynamic way to avoid telling, and you can also get symbolic.
Couple had a fight? Rain on a sunny day perhaps, or a cloud scudding across clear skies. Unrequited love can breed destruction, as can frustrated desire. Lightning-whacked bushes post-storm, or rain-ravaged roses, can say it all. A decent mist or fog for a character's confusion - or imminent danger - is another excellent use of the elements. Weather gives us writers a lot to work with, from assisting the plot to reflecting characters’ moods, to foreshadowing or prepping a jump-scare.
A storm can be oppressive, destructive, or it can be an allegory of passion. A pre-storm heaviness can echo emotional tension, or add an aura of mystery. It can even imbue a conversation with the taught 'hum' of unspent desire.
Long before I discovered Jane Austen, I found the Brontes (which, as novels, were released much later than the Regency era). I became obsessed with the writing, and researched all I could about the authors. My researches led me to an essay by Lord David Cecil, written in 1935.
It was an analysis of Wuthering Heights where he discussed the ‘children of storm’ and the ‘children of calm’ (if you know the work, I’m sure you can guess which characters are which). In this novel, the weather is more than just a passing descriptor; it’s a downright presence. While Cecil didn’t discuss other Bronteana, who can forget the voice on the moors in Jane Eyre? (I can’t! Agnes Grey also has its fair share of wild weather, as does The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.) In any case, Lord Cecil's insights forever changed the way I wrote the elements in my stories.
Weather plays a significant part in Austen’s work as well. Marianne Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility) manages to lose herself in a rain storm that leads to serious illness, and such an alteration of spirits that she loves the steadier, wiser Colonel Brandon instead of John Willoughby. Jane Bennett’s horseback ride through the rain keeps her (and subsequently her sister) at Netherfield long enough for Darcy to find he’s attracted to Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice.
As for Northanger Abbey, which reads almost as a caution to Regency readers as to the dangers of indulging in dark Gothic themes, the storm that inspires Catherine Morley to terror on her first night in the Abbey may be part satire, but its effect on the heroine informs her affections for the ever-forgiving Mr Tilney. It's a vital part of her story.
Another Austen hero, Mr Knightley, rides through the night - in a rainstorm - from London to Highbury to declare his love in Emma (and this is the moment he truly becomes a romantic hero in Austen’s novel). In Persuasion, Anne Elliott shelters in a shop due to a sudden downpour, when she’s caught between Mr Elliott and Captain Wentworth. This interesting moment sets up the dénouement. It’s this scene that shows Wentworth very clearly that he has a rival. Later, the protagonists are finally able to reveal their hearts to each other in a little shower of Bath rain - a very different atmosphere indeed.
It's not my usual style to place my work in such exalted company, but this is about your writer's tip, so please accept it in this spirit.
I’ve always used the weather for plot points. There’s no better reason for a heroine to remain in too-close proximity to her hero than a decent snowstorm, or driving rain. After reading Cecil, I thought of the atmosphere in my scenes differently. The weather became almost another character in my stories.
My favourite scene in Always a Princess takes place in a kirkyard, and the storm is a presence there. It was the hardest one to write and the one I reworked the most number of times - so it’s the one I’m most proud of as well. What do you think? (See below.)
Later in the novel Syeira's alone in a room with her powerful feelings and the most she can do in an English house that’s not her's is swing her windows wide and tie back her drapes, inviting a wild storm into her bed chamber. As a Romany woman, she prefers nature’s passion to a stiff upper lip. This same storm damages an estate project on the cusp of regeneration. (Emily’s my favourite Bronte - can you tell?) Syeira corrects this destruction of course. She’s not my heroine for nothing.
My sequel novel, The King’s Mistress, has several weather-events designed to maintain the protagonists’ proximity to one another. An ill girl can’t be sent out into a rainstorm in the winter (a romantic hero would never!), so we have forced proximity.
Later, there’s a much more serious storm which, again, moves the story forward (sorry - no spoilers - my publisher would not be happy).
The point is, weather can be used powerfully in your writing, in all sorts of ways. As writers we don't have music, or moody moving visuals to set a scene - or carry one forward, but we have words and we have weather. We have similies and metaphors and allegories - with these, we move a reader.