Sunday, August 2, 2009

December in August, Mysterious Weather

I’m writing a story set around the Christmas season, but the temperature outside is definitely August. I know there’s been a lot written about using weather in mysteries, but I think it adds something to the setting. I used it right off the bat to set the stage and bring up something from Greg McKenzie’s past. The first line (at the moment) is:

“I disliked the place as soon as I stepped out of the car, my breath vaporizing in the cold December night as though I had lapsed back into the smoking habit.”

Later, Greg contrasts Nashville’s snowless state with his experience from an assignment to a base at Minot, ND where the average December temperature was -13 degrees. John Sandford comments on Minneapolis-St. Paul’s temperature early in his new Wicked Prey, latest of his Lucas Davenport books. He wrote:

“As they went out the door, the heat hit them like a hand in the face. Not as bad as Alabama heat, but dense, and sticky, smelling of burned transmission fluid, spoiled fruit and bubble gum.”

Patricia Stoltey wrote a recent blog about the supposed “rule” that says don’t start your novel with the weather. She debunks it by citing openings from such authors as James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker, and Margaret Truman. She also mentions the "rule" about using dreams. I’ve commented previously about my experience with that subject. A professional editor read an early version of Secret of the Scroll and said eliminate the nightmare, it’s passé. Then my editor at the publishing house saw the mention of waking after a dream and said to elaborate on it.

As I indicated, my only problem with the weather in the new book is creating the feel of winter during the dog days of summer. Incidentally, the “dog days” was invented by the Greeks and Romans who believed Sirius, the Dog Star, was the cause of all this hot, sultry weather. I’m trying to get my star to rise to the occasion and create some great frozen metaphors and similes.

I don't care for frequent "weather reports" in mysteries, but when a storm or a heat wave or some other weather phenomenon affects the outcome of a scene, or helps to set the stage, I say bring 'em on. How about you? Do you duck under an umbrella or throw the book against the wall?


Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Chester,

Thanks for citing my blog post. I definitely consider weather part of a novel's setting. As a reader, it doesn't bother me a bit if an author uses weather to establish mood and help set the opening scene.

There are rules to follow, and rules to ignore. The difference is in the quality of the writing (and whether the agent or editor to whom you're submitting is the rule-maker). LOL

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Personally, I think your opening line is terrific. I agree with Patricia that weather can help set up the opening scene - and your line definitely does.

Chester Campbell said...

I hear you about the rule maker, Patricia. Fortunately, I have an editor who's in synch with me.

Thanks, Jane. Glad you liked it. As I indicated, it's still early going in the story. I'm just up to Chapter 7, so anything can happen. But I like that as a start. None of my critique group wanted to change it.

Morgan Mandel said...

Great descriptions. Good idea how to keep cool by writing about December in August.

Morgan Mandel