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Just a Thought…

The old cliche is that, when two people have nothing better to talk about or they’re too awkward to talk about something real, they talk about the weather. Why do so many manuscripts, then, start with… descriptions of the weather?

I should hope that, if you’ve decided to write an entire manuscript, you’ve got better things to talk about than the weather and you’re not feeling too awkward to say them.

Think about it. (Yes, I am reading contest submissions right now. Yes, every other entry for the last 50 or so has mentioned some kind of weather in the first paragraph. No, I am not automatically dismissing these entries, though the author is putting themselves at a bit of a disadvantage. No, this isn’t unusual compared to the slush I usually get. No, you probably shouldn’t start a manuscript like this.)

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  1. Leighann’s avatar

    People don’t only talk about the weather because they are bored. Many of the greatest stories ever told from Noah’s Ark and the Mesopotamian flood story center around the weather. Humans relate to the weather because it is one of our common experiences; that’s why people like to talk about it.

    Kids love to talk about the weather. I’m a middle school teacher and when I read a description of the weather, the kids are like, “whoa, I’ve been in wind like that before, or a snowstorm” and they are all clamoring to share their thoughts. I just read them the description of Jonas feeling snow for the first time in Lois Lowry’s classic, The Giver. The description of the weather should serve a purpose, such as to heighten tension or draw the reader into the story in a sensory way.

    In Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt describes the weather as a use of foreshadowing; she describes the air of a summer day in August before the storm. This serves to describe the setting in a sensory way and hint at the plot; all is still for now, but something exciting is about to happen!

  2. Mary’s avatar

    Leighann — The tone of my blog is often a little jokey and often hyperbolic. The point is, if every other submission starts with the weather, maybe it’s time to differentiate yourself.

    Weather as foreshadowing and theme is, as you say, old as the Bible. The freshest, most contemporary writers, though, choose literary devices and tropes that I’ve never read before. They go beyond the weather to new and exciting tools for foreshadowing and mood-setting.

  3. JR Hochman’s avatar

    The reason so many authors start chapters describing the weather is because it seems every other fantasy book on the market has a chapter opening where they describe the weather or the lush landscape… I agree, this is boring. So why do so many published authors get away with this device (read laziness)? Why don’t their editors slap them around a bit?

  4. Ron Huckemeyer’s avatar

    I was asked to change my opening chapter a few times. This last time, by a college professor in which she said, “Your protagonist is about to set off on a mission. Will the elements add to the melodrama? Or will he ride off on a nice sunny day?” Then she said something interesting, “Set me up.” And so I added the elements. Then she said, “This puts me in my place.”
    However the point you make of weather is interesting and will consider it in my second novel. Always eyes and ears open -Ronnie

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