Weather in stories, with thanks to Snoopy

Stifling weather…

As we’re sweltering in this hot weather, I thought it might be interestng to blog about weather and writing. With a nod to the patron saint of writers, Charles M Schultz‘s wonderful Snoopy. That’s the Snoopy who longs to be a bestselling writer and who always—well, nearly always—begins his stories with his tried and tested formula about the weather.Snoopy start with weather: it was a dark and stormy nightTo be fair, there are variants and I had fun searching them out. With a grateful acknowledgement to Schultz and the Peanuts strip, here are a couple of weather variants you might enjoy. First there’s subtleSnoopy applies subtlety to the weatherThen there’s a different approach

Never start a story with the weather…?

Liz Fielding, much-loved author of this parish, reminded me that one of Mills & Boon’s pamphlets on writing romance warned authors that starting with the weather was an absolute no-no. Snoopy clearly hadn’t read that one, had he?

Abbey in Oakwood by Caspar David Friedrich

Abbey in Oakwood by Caspar David Friedrich (1809-10)

But starting with the weather can work, though perhaps more in Gothic fiction than in sweet romances.

We could be out on the moors, on “a dark and stormy night” (thanks, Snoopy), where the heroine, alone and drenched to the skin, can find no shelter. Then, in the distance, she sees a single flicker of light. A flash of lightning reveals a dark and lonely inn with a dilapidated sign that creaks in the wind. She believes she has found shelter but we, wiser in the ways of scary stories, know better. She is following a dangerous path.

For who lives at that seemingly deserted place?lonely house in ghostly light

I did break the Mills & Boon rule myself once, by starting with a snowstorm. (“It was cold. So very cold.“) And they published it, too!

But when I revised and republished it last year, I put a non-weather prologue on the front so, strictly speaking, The Mystery Mistletoe Bride no longer starts with the weather. It wasn’t intended as a cop-out, honest, even if it looks that way.

Weather as metaphor

The weather can be a metaphor for what’s going on in the story.

cartoon vampirelightning in stormy weatherSo perhaps the lightning breaks overhead just as the vampire bares his fangs and advances on the helpless virgin?
And then the thunder rolls ominously when he reaches down to take her in his arms…
(I’m sure you can fill in the rest.)

Or perhaps the hot and breathless summer heatwave reflects the anxiety and apprehension of the character, desperately waiting for a resolution that she can’t control? Will she find an answer when the weather breaks? I will confess to having used that metaphor in a short story, a long time ago, where my heroine spent a long hot summer fearing that she was pregnant.

exhausted dog in heatwave

But the heat does take it out of us. I’m sure lots of us have been feeling as exhausted as that poor dog looks. Wet rag, anyone?

Is the weather always sunny in your stories?

book sunglasses on sunny beachIt’s easy, when writing, to forget about the weather completely.

Not necessarily a good idea, especially for stories set in the UK where it tends to rain… 😉 …quite a lot. Maybe our sunny romantic summers are too much of a good thing? I’m remembering how Lizzie Bennet walked to Netherfield to see Jane and arrived with her petticoat six inches deep in mud. And on the romantic front, it did her no harm at all, did it? Mr Darcy didn’t care two hoots about the dirt, no matter what Miss Bingley said.

I made the mistake, once, of setting a Regency romance in 1816 and making nothing of the weather. In my 1816, it was a “normal” sunny summer.

In reality? 1816 was the “year without a summer” as a result of an enormous volcanic explosion in what is now Indonesia.

The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 is the largest in recorded history and led to widespread crop failures and deaths across the northern hemisphere in the following years. To my shame, I’d heard of Krakatoa in 1883, and Vesuvius destroying Pompeii in AD79, but not Tambora in 1815, even though Tambora’s explosion was many times bigger. And we know the devastation that Vesuvius caused. The panorama below gives us an impression of the enormous Tambora caldera. It’s 6 kilometres across. Just think what kind of explosion produced that!

Tambora caldera panorama

By Tisquesusa – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69724625

Tambora was a classic case of the unknown unknown, for me at least. Sometimes, we writers don’t realise the things we need to research.

Lesson? The English may regard the weather as a subject for small talk, but for writers it can be much more important than that.

And finally Snoopy continues…

Thank you, Snoopy, and Charles M Schulz, for so much truth about the writer’s life.

Joanna, the Snoopy-fan

12 thoughts on “Weather in stories, with thanks to Snoopy

  1. Liz Fielding

    I loved this! I have a whole shelf of books about writing but my favourite has to be Snoopy’s. But it’s nonsense to have a rule about starting the book with the weather. It can be perfect – as long as it’s not a cliche! I love the use of weather as a metaphor, but fear that most of my books have the UK weather as warm and sunny with flowers. My fantasy…

    Reply
    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks, Liz. I am a huge Snoopy fan, too. And TBH the only time it rains in my books is when I need the rain as a plot device. So my fantasy is just like yours.

      Reply
    1. Joanna Post author

      Yes, it was UC. I heard it, too, and I remembered that it wasn’t Krakatoa but I couldn’t remember the actual name. I had to look it up. One of the reasons Tambora figured in my blog…

      Reply
  2. lesley2cats

    I admit to not knowing about Tambora – thank you for enlightening me. Weather is often essential in a mystery/detective story, although I’ve never used it as a plot device – yet! However, I do love and admire Snoopy. I hope he keeps on sitting on top of his kennel with his typewriter for a long time to come.

    Reply
      1. Joanna Post author

        And as a PS for all Snoopy fans, here’s another bit of strip that I couldn’t fit into the blog. But it’s too good to miss, I reckon.Snoopy strip It was a dark and stormy night and a kiss

        Reply
  3. Elizabeth Bailey

    Snoopy extracts are hilarious. I admit to starting with weather a lot in my stories. I don’t recall M&B rejecting them on that account, but then I’d have to check if I did use it with those stories. I think it’s part of scene setting, as long as the weather isn’t the only thing going on.

    Reply

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