5 Lessons about Writing from Weather

Wishing our readers safety during Hurricane Ian. Michele

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, what will be, will be.

I happen to be a panster, outlining only in my head during the middle of the night when I have insomnia. I know people who write outlines so intricately planned they look like a mathematical formula to me. Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum, writing is organic. Even the most rigid plotter has had moments when the story or the character takes siege. If smart, the writer lets the snow fall, the wind blow, and the writing flow.

Too much detail can get boring.

Winter landscape with river

I have lived near the ocean for most of my life and have a healthy respect for weather. I pay attention to forecasts and have learned that Mother Nature knows how to show earthlings who is boss. But when meteorologists drone on and on, repeating warnings, and describing the meaning of bombogenesis multiple times, it can become deafening and boring. Writing descriptions, whether it be of setting, a character, or even the weather, when too long and repetitive, can cause the reader to scan and sometimes stop reading. Enough is enough is one of the hardest lessons a writer must learn.

Deliver what you promise.

People become exasperated when the forecasters are wrong. Instead of expressing gratitude that a hurricane has passed and gone out to sea, you hear comments about how inept the meteorologists were. “How wrong can they be?” “Well, that was a bust.” If you have suggested to the reader that something scary is going to happen, you’d better make good on your promise. Anticipation followed by a whimper is sure to disappoint and even anger your reader.

All sunshine gets old.

Beautiful sunbeam through the black stormy cloud.

     As a New Englander, I love the change in seasons. Each brings beauty and its own form of inconvenience. Without the contrast of a rainy day, endless sunshine loses its luster. Bad things need to happen in a story to interest a reader. The worse the weather gets, the more the reader engages.

Leave the boring parts out

   I’m paraphrasing Elmore Leonard, who suggested leaving out the parts the reader skips. Weather can create mood, be predictive, and be a story in itself. My book, Tropical Depression, used the approach and landing of Hurricane Irma to do all three. But if including weather in your story serves no purpose, then leave it out.

What lessons have you learned from the weather?


  1. I’m writing something now that’s set in the winter, but I have to keep reminding myself it’s cold out. Does that count? 🙂

  2. Thanks, Michele. The weather affects my mood. On a dark rainy day I’m liable to be grumpy and sleepy but if it’s sunny outside so is my mood. But I also enjoy the sound of rain, the muffled silence during a snow storm and the warmth of the sun on my skin.

    I’ve also used weather in a couple of my books. Taking a Chance on Love, a romance, starts off with a surprise blizzard that triggers a traumatic memory for one of the main characters. And, A Message in Blood starts off with NYPD Detectives Chiara Corelli and P.J Parker standing out on a pier in an icy, snowy, windy storm watching the retrieval of the bodies of two young girls from the Hudson River.

    And you’ve just reminded me that the weather can be a factor in the romance that takes place on a tour of Italy.

  3. Excellent post, Michele! The weather figured heavily into my Maeve Malloy series. Alaska was a character. Weather was the costume she wore. My first book was set during the twenty-hour daylight in summer. The question was posed: how do you kill a homeless person in broad daylight and not get caught? The second book was in early January, when a young woman leaves a community gathering to run an errand and disappears into a blizzard. In the third book, Maeve is stuck on an island with a murderer and a bunch of tourists when the tail end of a hurricane socks them in. I found a lighter hand was useful as I would need to develop the weather throughout the story.

    As for fog, I highly recommend the Crawdads book. She paints wonderful pictures of fog.

    1. Keenan, you sure get weather and know how to use it! I love “Alaska was a character. Weather was the costume she wore.” Damn, my fellow Miss Demeanors are talented!

  4. I like these analogies a lot. If readers complain that there is too much weather in a book, it usually means it’s not serving a purpose. It should be almost invisible…

  5. I usually use weather to set the season of the setting, to ground the reader.
    But weather can be a plot point, too.
    In The Scarlet Wench I used a storm with horrendous flooding in Cumbria that cuts off Nora and her friends, along with an acting troupe gathered at the inn where she was living. It was a perfect closed environment when a murder occurs and they are trapped together.
    Stay safe, everyone!

  6. Excellent advice, Michele. You know my motto: when in doubt, leave it out. With that said, weather can be an integral part of the story. And that can be fun. I’m not sure where you are at the moment, but if you’re anywhere near Ian, be SAFE!

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