Raise your hands if you’ve ever neglected weather in your fanfiction or original writing; don’t be afraid to show your shame. It’s a common pitfall of many writers, simply because the drama of our characters and plots often take center stage. When confronted with a dilemma, we don’t often ask ‘what is the weather like’ unless it directly effects the outcome of our situation. Yet weather does exist, and will continue to exist long after our daily dramas have unfolded… so how do we best utilize their presence in our plot without allowing them to take over the narrative? It’s difficult to know, and honestly some of the best ways to find solutions are to simply experiment; at least, this is what many guide authors will tell you. It leaves you feeling a little bit lost and unsure of yourself, so I offer forward my expertise on the subject in order to help you craft better writing without falling into the normal stumbling spots.
The first thing you must know, in order to utilize weather and climate properly, is that a terrain’s particular climate is what is considered normal while the terrain’s weather is what is currently happening. With that in mind, this particular article will divide the subject into the two distinct categories. We’ll talk about how to formulate a climate in for your topographical map I asked you to utilize last time, and we’ll likewise look at how to utilize weather in our plots, and look at examples from published media.
While climate, as a topic, can be hashed up and divided in several different ways, for the sake of simplicity and application to the topic of writing we will divide our climates into five different groups: Tropical, Dry, Moderate, Continental, and Polar.
Tropical areas are most often characterized my high rainfall and constant high temperatures. We’re looking at a minimum of 70 inches a year rain wise, and a base temperature of at least 65℉. As a result, you’re going to see an explosion of plant life, and a yearly climate that seldom fluctuates. Look into the areas of your topographical map that you feel will be the hottest and wettest, and go on ahead and whip out your green crayon. Scribble that bad boy in, and recognize that any character walking into that particular region is going to be faced with hellish humidity and rainfall that could rival a biblical flood.
Dry areas are the exact opposite, with very little preoccupation and enormous diurnal and seasonal temperature ranges. What’s important to realize about dry areas, is that they are most often formed by rain shadows, which are caused by a mountain that blocks the path of moisture and precipitation to a desert. You’re going to be seeing extremely low humidity, resulting in ice that simply evaporates instead of melting, and bare minimum of plant life. Daytime temperatures will range around 113℉ with nighttime temperatures falling to around 32℉. You can thank the nonexistent humidity for that too. Search for your mountain ranges on your topographical map. Depending upon how you want your air and precipitation to flow. In the wake of a goliath structure, you will find a lack of life. A beige crayon will do you fine here (I’m joking about coloring the map, but go at it if you like). Recognize that any character entering into this region (or living in this region) will have their life forces dominated by their search for water. Don’t fall back on the idea that ice can save them either. Filling the stomach with ice is deadly; they’ll have to find another way to survive if you want them to live in a desert permanently.
Moderate climates are characterized by being in the middle, but leaning more towards the warm side. They can be classified into many separate branches, but today we’ll only look at three: Mediterranean, Subtropical, and Oceanic.
Mediterranean areas are some of the most packed with human life, and due to our particular flow of precipitation they are often found on the western sides of continents. You’re looking at climates often characterized by moderate temperatures, and changeable rainy weather. Summers will be blissfully hot and dry, but watch out as your location drifts closer to coastal regions. Summers will be milder here, due to the nearby presence of cold ocean currents. Fog will be brought in, but you’ll still see a lack of rain. Not all moderate climates are created equal! Rome and Madrid are both examples of a Mediterranean climate, as is Athens.
The eastern side of the continents is will be fringed with humid, subtropical weather. You’re looking at a constant wet warm flow from the tropics that creates a warm and moist conditions during the summer months. Summer in these areas will be the wettest season. This will not be the case in your western moderate climates. These rains will often come in the form of thunderstorms. Consider for example Orlando, Florida or New Orleans, Louisiana. Tokyo, Taipei, and Milan are all considered humid subtropical.
Oceanic climates are not on the oceans, so get that concept out of your head. They are always going to be northward of the Mediterranean climates. These places will be dominated all year round by the polar fronts, and the weather will more often than not be overcast. Summers will be cool, but winters will be milder. You’re looking at places like Paris, Berlin, Dublin, Cardiff.
The brunt of your populated areas will be in moderate climates, and for good reason. Extremism does not do well for humanity as a whole, particularly where weather is concerned, and coastal areas bring an influx in life due to rolling precipitation and ocean weather patterns. What’s important to note, for your topographical map, is that nearly all these areas will be close to the edges of landmasses. They are directly affected by ocean fronts.
Continental climates are often found in the interior of continents, and as such are generally characterized as being dryer. Temperature, however, can fluctuate depending upon the latitude of the area (here’s where your topographical map comes in)! One important thing to note about continental climates is that they rarely occur in smaller land masses. Islands will not have continental climates (and if they do it will be quite the oddity, perhaps even a highland).
The higher up the latitude goes, the colder the climate will get. If you’re working with an enormous mountain range, it would be a poor idea to write the entire mega landmass as having only one climate. Remember, that the higher up you go the lower your temperature is going to drop and the less oxygen your character is going to have. Humans were never meant to live at the peaks of mountains. At the very tip of your continental climates, fringing on polar, you’re going to be seeing severe winters. On earth, these climates only occur in eastern Siberia as a reference. Be aware of what your character will have to endure if you’re going to be putting them in such a place.
Polar wraps up our little jaunt around the climate block, and can be divided into two sub categories sure to give you the willies: the tundra, and the ice caps. Temperatures can get up to 50℉, but you’re going to find that a rarity only seen during the summer months. The tundra climates will be located near the edges of the land mass. You’ll find that the tundra often slides neatly against the highest latitudes of continental climates (once again, think of Siberia).
The ice caps, unlike the tundra climates, will remain frozen all year long. The warmest temperatures you’re going to find in the polar climates will be a balmy 32℉, and that’s if you’re quite lucky. As a result, plant life is going to be a no-show in the ice caps, and a rarity in the tundra. In areas of the tundra that desperately cling onto the fringe of the continental range, you’ll find that it can take over 50 years for a tree to get bigger than a sapling. These are desolate, wild places, where little stirs. Unlike the dry climates, where a character’s biggest plight will be to find water, in the polar climates the character’s greatest concern will be to find food.
Weather, you will find, will have a much greater impact on your current plot than your climate. Weather is current, ever changing, but mercifully for you it’s also blatantly obvious. Stop what you’re doing right now, and take a peek out your window. What is the weather? For me, it is overcast but bright, slowly starting to warm from the earlier winter months, and damp from an earlier shower this morning.
The true beauty about weather is how it can be used as not only a background tool but as a plot enhancement. At times, it can even take the central figure in your plot. Consider thrillers such as The Fog and Twister. Nothing can serve to make your character (and in turn) your reader feel more powerless than the overwhelming force of weather. The question is, of course, how do you best mobilize weather in your plot so that it takes on the right effect and doesn’t drown out the drama? The answer is to make weather either a hinderance or an aid… not a spectacle.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more beautiful than to watch a thunderstorm ripple across the sky, but spending five pages describing it isn’t really going to wow your readers. Using weather as an aid or a hinderance instead can serve to make your readers sympathetic with your characters, because who hasn’t been thwarted by the weather at one time in their life or another?
Is your character in an arid or hot area? Let them have a taste of a dust storm or a heat burst.
On an ocean or even near the coast? Let them do battle with a hurricane or a cyclone. Even a water spout might prove to be a shocker.
Are they in a continental climate close to shifting air currents? A tornado never went amiss.
Hail, freezing rain, fire whirls, severe thunderstorms, droughts, and microbursts, the lists just go on and on. The sign of a truly well learned author (and the one that can garner the widest fan bases), however, are the ones that know the climates their working with and utilize common weather for that area. There’s no point in trying to put a monsoon in a desert, or a tornado on the top of a mountain. You’re going to lose accountability to your reader if you do not stick within the logical confines of meteorology that we know and interact with on a daily basis. The problem with creating your own world is that people tend to think that they can create their own rules. While this can work for the societal constructs you set up or the currencies you put into motion, you cannot presume to the level of god over the topic of the weather and climate. There comes a line when even an author must recognize that relativity and logic must take sway. Don’t be discouraged! The internet is your friend. Study different climates, and make notes on your topographical map about what areas will surely receive what different types of weather. Make even more lists: note what could be hindrances and aids to your characters. Sprinkle them out in your story; show the effects on the surrounding landscape and the wildlife!
This brings us to our next installment, and one that will prove to be quite fun… vegetation and animal life! Until then, keep writing!