Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

What’s the Weather?

Recently in my WIP I realized I hadn’t paid much attention to the weather. The novel is set in the Seattle metro area in March and weather can be very variable. We joke about it raining all the time there—and it does rain a lot—but there are often lots of gray days and wonderful bursts of sunshine with fabulous blue skies.

Why does weather matter?

It will affect my character. And not just what she is wearing. Recently, the area had unexpected snow. Schools may either be delayed or be closed—both are usually causes for celebration for kids.

Dripping rainy days can feel depressing. Maybe if your character is depressed, the weather isn’t helping. Conversely, bright sunshine can be cheering.

Thunder and lightning doesn’t happen often in western Washington, but if your story is set somewhere else, it might. And even rain can be different from place to place. In Kansas it often comes down in torrents. And the wind is definitely stronger there.

Back to attire.

Many Seattle area residents wear waterproof jackets with hoods instead of worrying about umbrellas. People may wear rubber boots—in fact, I remember seeing some pretty cute little kid ones. (And at the nudist park in Issaquah that might be all some are wearing!) I never did wear rubber boots, so the hems of my jeans often were damp. And sometimes muddy. Each of these weather-related clothing experiences offers a chance for sensory details to use for your character.

When the sun comes out Seattleites often break out shorts, sandals, and sunglasses.

How else can weather affect my story?

In midMarch we had plum and cherry trees that bloomed with white and pink blossoms. Yellow forsythia, dark pink quince, and many different colored camellias come to mind for bushes. Flowering bulbs might be crocus, daffodils, tulips, and/or hyacinths. Your character may or may not notice these but for many of us those splashes of color are a welcome sign of spring.

And don’t forget sunrise and sunset times. Right now where I live (another degree north of Seattle) we’re getting about 11 hours of daylight, but late December and early January it’s barely over 8 hours. Ughh!

What else happens in spring?

Birds return or are more active as they build nests and lay eggs. Chirp, cheep, caw are very common sounds my character might hear. And the honking of migrating Canadian geese flying north.

If your character lives in a rural area, they might hear the baaing of new lambs, the bawling of calves, or the bleating of kids. One of my favorite sounds of spring in the Seattle metro area was  the Pacific tree frogs croaking.

The slug eggs hatch and the older slugs that have been buried in leaves and detritus come out and leave sparkling slime trails. Slugs live in and near forest vegetation, so an apartment dweller in Seattle is not going to step out their door and see one, but someone who lives amongst cedars and firs will. And there’s more than one type of slug. Banana slug, anyone?

What are you smelling?

This can be weather related too.

Spring brings all kinds of scents to our noses. Scotch broom is pretty in spring but I hate the smell and it is an allergy trigger. And many trees are releasing pollen, too. Does your character have allergies?

When the ground is very dry and it rains, there’s a special earthy scent called petrichor. Sometimes people say, “it smells like rain.” Scientists say we recognize the ozone in the air and expect rain to follow. Some may recognize that snow is likely due to olfactory experiences as well.

How much of this information do I use?

Probably not all of it. It also depends on your character and their situations. But if your character goes outside, it’s important to use some details to ground your reader. And how do you know what will benefit your story if you don’t have any sense of these specifics yourself?

One word of caution–work the facts in in bits and pieces instead of writing big chunks of description.