It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets…
– Opening sentence of Paul Clifford (1830) by Edward Bulwer-Lyyton
Your story’s protagonist is heading out the door for work. She is wearing a dress, no coat, but your story is set in December. Or you have her complaining of waking up to yet another rainy day, yet when she gets in her car and drives, there is no mention of rain pelting down on her car windows.
Obviously the author isn’t paying attention to her story’s setting – time of day, time of year, and location. (December in North American is different than December in Australia or New Zealand).
The seasons and time of day (or night) are important to your story’s (short story of novel) content. They can also factor in with your plot. In my story, “Porcelain Doll” from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point it is stated that it is summer and the Holden family is going on their annual train trip to grandpa’s farm. The scene with the parents and 12 ½ -year-old Sarah about her attire goes like this.
“Daddy,” I said.
“Sarah, what is that you are wearing?” He pointed the cigar up at me.
“That” was the new sundress Mama had slaved over late last night. When I put it on this morning, Mama had smiled with pleasure. I thought it made me look quite grownup.
“You look like a floozy.” Daddy shook the cigar. “Go up to your room and change into something decent. And bring down one of your dolls. You can carry it.” He turned to Mama. “Alice, what were you thinking?” (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press)
The actual season or time of day or weather doesn’t mean the characters can’t dress inappropriately if there is a reason such as the character always wears long underwear, jeans and a sweatshirt. But you have to work that aspect into your story. Or, as with Sarah Holden, after this outburst from Daddy, she does the following:
I burst into tears and clomped upstairs. I yanked off the sundress and pulled on a vest, long-sleeved dress and a jacket. That should make me look flat, like “Daddy’s little girl.” (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press)
In “Road Raging,” Dana Bowman is driving along Lake Road…
Take that hit-and-run on Lake Road last fall. You probably read about it in the Thurston Herald-Times. October 20, 1999 I believe was the date.
That night, I was driving along Lake Road at dusk,… (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press)
And shortly thereafter…
The car interior jarred into brightness. A red car, high beams on, flew by, just missing me. I jerked the steering wheel and my car slid to the right. I hit the brakes.
“Damn.” I pounded the steering wheel. “No, you’re not getting away with this.” I restarted the car and resumed my route.
A few miles up the road, where it takes a wild turn before you reach Snow Lake, my car lights spotted the forest green car, dented like a junkyard special,…
Here it is fall at dusk so car lights would be on and the above makes sense. Later in the story when the police arrive, it is fully dark and when they try to find where Dana is almost run off the road, they can’t find it.
In both these examples, these setting aspects play a part in the plot.
So, to summarize a few rules of thumb:
- Make sure your setting’s time, season and weather are appropriate and consistent to your plot. This doesn’t mean your story can’t take place in different seasons, but you need to let the reader know either in the narrative or as some authors do, setting up chapters into different seasons or days.
- For any story not set in the actual present (even two months ago), check online with weather organizations (US National Climatic Data Centre, Environment Canada, etc.) pertinent to your setting for what the weather was like then. You don’t want to have everything dry in New Orleans when Katrina hit in 2005.
- Try to work in the weather, time of day, etc. into your plot and how your characters act. For example, a snowstorm could isolate characters with an unknown murderer at a ski chalet – no hydro and no phones (even cell) and no one can get in or out. This is a cliché but you can get the picture.
- Don’t forget the idiosyncrasies of your characters if that includes not dressing for the weather.
Happy writing. I will be taking a week’s break from readings and workshops connected to my book but will be updating my social media for May’s activities. Check my website www.samcraw.com for links, including the Beyond the Tripping Point page. But give me a few days. I have a garden to attend to as well.
Sharon A. Crawford