Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Wind Howled...Or Was That A Shriek?

My literary crush Elmore Leonard often discusses his 10 Rules Of Writing--all designed to keep the writer invisible in the story.

First on the list: Never Open A Book With Weather.

The reason is simple: Unless you're showing a character's reaction to the weather, the reader will skip over long sections of meteorological blathering. Yet some writers--myself included--have started scenes detailing everything from wind speed to barometric pressure, thinking we're supposed to create 'atmosphere'.

But if the characters don't care about the weather (in which case we'd show their reaction, rather than the weather itself), why should the reader?

In this interview he talks about reading a book that starts with: "The wind howled like a beast in pain." (Tellingly, I thought it was a pretty cool metaphor.) Leonard, however, laughed, then asked, "Whose point of view is that?"

He was kind, though, and suggested that the unnamed author would probably get out of his own way soon enough; that the writer might have been eager to showcase his (or her) abilities, and hadn't yet learned to let the characters tell the story.

But weather can also be a writer's friend, as in this example:

Imagine a newly-hired crime scene technician, unprepared for real-life investigations, trudging through a muddy field in the midst of a downpour to reach the corpse. Just as our poindexter reaches the ditch on the far side, lightning strikes a nearby tree. Startled, he slips in the mud and slides down the embankment on his backside--much to the amusement of the uniformed officers on the scene.

Congratulations! Weather has just provided you with conflict, tension, and--as the story progresses and our technician learns the ropes--a LOT of room for character growth.

If the story is strong enough, who needs atmosphere?

Cheers...and Happy Writing!



  1. It's very interesting watching the way new writers go about learning the craft. I'm enjoying your journey very much, Jennifer! You're right on track.
    Looking forward to your FBP!

  2. Small,

    Thanks so much for the support! If only I didn't have to learn everything by doing it WRONG...


    1. Love the name Small, but makes me feel like the fat guy they call Tiny. LOL.
      You don't do everything wrong. It's just hard to know what's right until you try it. You'll get there, though.
      In case you really didn't know, this is Susan.


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