Weather Thesaurus Entry: Forest Fire

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: Forest fires can span a hundred feet or hundreds of miles. Thick, sooty columns of charcoal grey blot out the sky, and orange flames lick tall trees, engulf grassy fields and chew though dry undergrowth. At ground level…

Smell: Soot, ash, smoke, pitch, burning…

Taste: Grit, acrid ash, smoke that creates a build up of…

Touch: Painful heat that will sear and blister skin, burn exposed flesh and char sensitive lung tissue with every breath if close. Ash falls like…

Sound: The crackle of burning wood, the roar and snap of the flame, and the crash of timbers collapsing as flame engulfs everything…


Mood: A forest fire can create a sudden and devastating situation that heightens anxiety levels and pits characters in a fight for their lives. Fire leaves no prisoners–it burns, eradicates…

Symbolism: A heavenly scourge to wash the spirit clean through fire; Man vs Nature…

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 information in each entry been enhanced and expanded, we’ve also added 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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8 years ago

I’ve actually hiked in the aftermath of a large forest fire (the Pagami Creek fire which recently ravaged Northern Minnesota and made air dangerous to breathe as far south as Chicago). When everything’s burned, it all just looks… sinister. Apparently, fir trees, when burned, are reduced to a central stalk and sharp spikes where the branches used to be. They look like you could murder someone with one.

8 years ago

love your weather related posts!!!

Laura Pauling
8 years ago

Fire is powerful has a symbol, metaphor, and theme to a story if done right. I love fire in stories. Great post!

Angela Ackerman
8 years ago

Great point Kristen, and I agree—there is a necessary cleansing and regrowth cycle with forest fires. 😉

SP< I totally agree on that cliche for Fire itself, but for forest fire specifically I don't think the connection is used enough to present as a possible situation for overuse. I don't come across a lot of Forest Fire in books, which is surprising as it's such a powerful force and has that 'nature AND Man' origin, something that few other weather scenarios have! Thanks everyone for the comments! You all rock!! Angela

The Golden Eagle
8 years ago

A forest fire . . . interesting! I could see one as the opening scene of a story.

Conda V. Douglas
8 years ago

Weather can create emotional conflict and add a lot. Thanks for this useful post.

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

Awesome pic. Great job, Ange!

Carrie Butler
8 years ago

Very timely, Angela! Another fantastic weather entry. 🙂

Lenny Lee*
8 years ago

hi miss angela! wow! another cool weather post. i save all of them caue for sure i learned from you how it could make a story lots better.
…hugs from lenny

8 years ago

You’ve given me an idea! I love reading your posts because that happens nearly every time! You’re amazing. ‘Nough said.

Loree Huebner
8 years ago

The elements around us are so important to a scene.

Great post. Thanks for laying it out.

SP Sipal
8 years ago

Yes, great resource, as always. I also like what Kristen said about the cleansing of a fire. One cliche might be the link to passion?

8 years ago

They’re so awful, but forest fires also give the forest a new, clean start, when caused by nature. Great profile!

Matthew MacNish
8 years ago

Forest Fires are the only phenomena in this series that I can think of that have stimuli for all five sense to observe.

That kind of makes them cool, though not in real life, of course.

Eve S Nicholson
8 years ago

I especially appreciate the note at the top about how the weather should not be used as a window into a character. Wow, I hadn’t thought of it as heavy handed, but I will be cautious of my weather choices from now on. I don’t want to beat my readers over the head.

Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

Something for me to consider in the setting/s I work with. A lot can change in that moment–and in the aftermath. Great post!!

Clarissa Draper
8 years ago

This has been something happening a lot lately and so I can see people using it in their books. Thanks for the resource.