October has dropped over Iowa like a cold, soggy towel. People who smiled their way through September are lurching down the sidewalk with their jackets pulled over their ears. If you dare to look at their faces, you’ll catch a glimpse of haunted eyes and snarling lips. You think zombies are scary? You haven’t seen Midwesterners when the weather changes for the worse.
All of us have different tastes in weather. I stand on the front porch to watch thunderstorms. My friends run to the basement. I’ve known guys who sunbathe on their car hoods in ninety-degree weather. You’ll find me with my head stuck in the refrigerator.
With so many opinions about the weather, it makes sense that our characters respond to the weather, too. And--as the independent beings they are—characters’ reactions aren’t always what we expect. Let’s say a bad breakup has your protagonist feeling down, so you treat her to a gorgeous sunny day to bring back her smile. She steps outdoors, raises her face to the warm sun—and bursts into gut-wrenching sobs. Not what you had in mind was it?
Weather can set the mood, ground readers in time and place, throw characters’ plans into a tailspin, and reveal a new facet of personality. And we know weather is an excellent way to create problems. One rainstorm can wash out a camping trip, cause a mudslide, send a car hydroplaning across a highway, and ruin the prom queen’s carefully styled hair. A multi-tasking natural disaster!
Weather is the perfect antidote for writer’s block, too. Stop banging your forehead on the computer keys and take a weather break. Stare out the window until your eyes cross and start typing. Describe the colors of the sky—no robin’s egg blue copouts allowed--and the shapes, textures, and motion of the clouds. Work your way through wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. How many colors and nuances of light can you find in the tossing leaves? Are squirrels scampering in carefree abandon or eyeing the power lines with suicidal thoughts? Leave no detail unrecorded. By the time you finish, you’ll have setting details for several chapters.
The next time your weather turns ugly, wipe the snarl off your face and get every nasty detail on paper.