Weather Entry: Air Pollution

WEATHER and PHENOMENA are important elements in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character’s emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character’s soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).


Sight: From a distance, air pollution can appear as a grey or brownish haze that lingers in highly populated urban areas or factory and production districts. From within the area, pollution is not usually visible in the air as a collective source, but rather seen as individual contributors–a thick grey plume chugging from a production plant, powdery white smoke drifting up from cooking vents on restaurants…

Smell: Pollution smells can range from an oily tang to the air, to the gasoline scent of car exhaust, to an acrid burning plastic or a host of other things (sewage, etc). Sometimes, if a person has been exposed to the environment for a long time, these smells go unnoticed. Consider the source of the pollution when fitting in scents in your scene. A beer factory gives off the odor of hops…

Taste:  Sometimes the air can have an acrid taste to it, but the pollution needs to be very strong to notice it.

Touch:  In itself Air Pollution is texture-less (with the exception of ash, which has a powdery texture), but it does cause health problems…

Sound: Air pollution itself does not have a sound, but the source often does (car engines, factory machines…


Mood: Air pollution, depending on the level of contamination, can create a feeling of desperation or despair in the scene. It can also imply poverty or indicate poor living conditions…

Symbolism: Technology; Industry; Corporate Greed…

Don’t be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character’s emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Weather is a powerful tool, helping to foreshadow events and steer the emotional mood of any scene.

Need more detail regarding this weather element? Good news! This thesaurus has been integrated into our new online library at One Stop For Writers. There, not only has the sensory detail of each Weather and Earthly Phenomenon entry been enhanced and expanded, it also includes scenarios for adding conflict and tension. The entire thesaurus is also cross-referenced with our many other descriptive collections for easy searchability. Registration is free, so if you’re interested in seeing a sampling of the fully updated Weather and Earthly Phenomenon Thesaurus, head on over to One Stop.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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[…] Air Pollution […]

Shannon O'Donnell
9 years ago

Weather is something I need to “beef up” in my writing. I’m loving this series, Angela. 🙂

Jeff King
9 years ago

Very good post… I’ll use this one a lot.

Julie Musil
9 years ago

Hey, is that L.A.? Ugh. Before our state clamped down on pollution, I remember my lungs actually hurting from this stuff. At least it’s better now. Great job on capturing all things pollution!

Rachna Chhabria
9 years ago

I have used weather sometimes to reflect tension (stormy dark clouds and a storm brewing). A couple of times I have used weather as an antagonist that comes in the way of the protagonist’s goals.

9 years ago

Scary idea of such happening but great background for future society. I can see this coming up very handy.

Angela Ackerman
9 years ago

Thanks everyone for the comments. Yes, I think sometimes people are afraid to use weather because they hear editors say things like, ‘Write a story, not a weather report’ but all this really means is to write succinct, MEANINGFUL weather description that ties into events, not rambling, meaningless paragraphs describing the weather and setting to ‘set up’ a story.

Weather is a powerful way to create pressure on the MC & possibly stand in the way of their goals or even just evoke mood or foreshadow events. Use everything in your writing arsenal, right?

As always–so glad you visited! 🙂


Becca Puglisi
9 years ago

Wonderful job, as always, Angela. I can definitely see how pollution can lead to an atmosphere of desperation.

Carrie Butler
9 years ago

Very nice! I had to bite back a reflex cough. 😉

9 years ago

I typically use weather as an antagonist, if you will. My characters usually act impulsively in some way–despite the signs of impending weather–and end up in an external struggle in addition to their internal ones.

Blizzards, storms at sea, perpetual rain that threatens the farming community’s livlihood.

Thanks so much for this great reminder that weather is much more than the outward appearance of our characters’ internal struggles.

Laura Pauling
9 years ago

I love reading and realizing the symbolism in stories. It just makes it that much deeper esp. when it’s not obvious! Great stuff! 🙂

Susanne Dietze
9 years ago

Helpful post. I like your tip on adding contrast using weather in my stories. Thanks!

Bish Denham
9 years ago

I have incredible pictures of NYC from 1967 from the top of the Empire State Building and show just how bad the smog used to be there. It was terrible!

9 years ago

Very helpful post…I have not used weather as a window to my character’s emotion but then, I am not good at describing places or people. But I am learning now and your blog is my bible! Thanks!

Theresa Milstein
9 years ago

I’ve used weather to try to evoke mood. I try not being cliche. After reading this post, I’ll look back and make sure.

No girls crying in the rain!