WEATHER is an important element 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: Similar to hail, sleet occurs in the winter but is much smaller in size and melts quickly. Starting off as raindrops, sleet freezes as it passes through cold air, and then melts quickly as it hits the warmer surface air. It’s granular in nature, like coarse sugar. In large amounts these frozen ice pellets in can accumulate like snow, but if the ground is especially warm…
Smell: Like all precipitation, sleet carries an ozone smell to it (a slight metallic odor). It can also create a sense of freshness…
Taste: Water, a metallic tang
Touch: Sleet is slushy and cold, bringing pain and numbness to exposed skin. Unlike snow which can slide off clothing without melting, sleet will often soak in, driving a chill…
Sound: Sleet may make a slight pinging on dry surfaces, but turn into a slightly louder ‘slap’ sound on wet ones. The speed, accumulation and warmth of the air will factor in…
Mood: Sleet generally infuses a scene with a sense of misery. Unlike other weather forms, people do not relish the presence of sleet as it only represents a messy, sloppy condition that is…
Symbolism: A dreary existence; unhappiness; emotional numbness…
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.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Leslie Rose says
Sleet has always struck me as a transition between rain and hail. Sort of a non-committal dump of cold.
Susanne Drazic says
Great post. So glad we haven’t had to deal with any sleet this year. Brings up feelings of fear because of how the road conditions get.
Traci Kenworth says
Nasty business this!! So many things can and usually do go wrong with this type of weather.
Jeanette Levellie says
Wow, thanks for this excellent information! Your blog is a treasure chest for writers.
I appreciate you visiting my site and empathizing with my blogger rant!
Dane Zeller says
Becca, I avoid using weather to indicate, describe or even hint at emotion or emotional states. In your comment, you explain precisely the pitfalls of doing so. You really make sense.
If I used “sleet,” I would use it to aid in description of a scene. In one word it states temperature, precipitation, road conditions, visibility and could indicate the season.
Hmmm…it does indicate changing weather and circumstances, however. Things are not so certain in sleet. Danger is possible if ice coats the streets. If you’re in a hurry to drive somewhere, anxiety is heightened as you peer through the tracks left by the wipers.
Stacy Green says
For some reason, both of my books have taken place in warm environments, so I’ve not had to deal with any winter weather. But this is a great entry on dealing with some of the crappy wintery mix. Thanks!
Sherry Isaac says
A Winnipegger by birth, I do not like sleet. Too many walking-to-school memories, slipping, falling on behind, icy water soaking through the layers. Numbness on skin? You betcha.
But, never did I think to break down any weather element so completely. What a fantastic idea.
It’s definitely something to take into consideration, and I’ll admit to having fallen into cliches before. Never good, ay. 🙂
Great post! Something all writers need to be reminded of from time to time.
Angela Ackerman says
Great answer Becca–thanks! I’ve been offline doing the glamorous job of picking out and changing out toilet seats. Wow, I almost passed out from the excitement of it all. LOL.
Another issue specifically with the rain/tears thing is that crying has to be handled with extreme care. All too often we writers use crying too quickly or too frequently to show an extreme response to an emotion. If you think about it, it takes a lot to push us to tears in real life, so we really need to be careful when we apply crying in our work or it can hit the melodrama button. 🙂
Becca Puglisi says
Katya, I think that while weather can be used effectively as a symbol, you don’t want to use it in a heavy-handed way when describing character emotion. One reason for this is that it starts to sound contrived. The rain example is a good one, because rain can depict a mood of sadness and can symbolize tears. But for the character’s world to fall apart just as the clouds open up? It feels a little forced, because while it could happen, it’s just as likely for someone to be overcome with grief while it’s sunny or snowing or foggy.
The other reason you have to be careful tying weather too closely to emotions is because the typical comparisons have been used so often that it’s hard to accomplish without becoming cliche. For the the most part, you want to avoid cliches at all cost, so it’s better to come up with a fresh way to show what your character is feeling.
IMO, weather is best used to set mood, which has more to do with the reader’s emotion than the character’s. Mood-setting is delicate work and has to be done subtly, so by all means use the weather. Just do it quietly, and if possible, in a way that hasn’t been done a million times before.
Does that help or confuse things more? 🙂
Donna K. Weaver says
Awesome listings. The weather can really intensify the tensions of scenes, not showing the character’s inside but the mirror what’s going on.
Kelly Polark says
Another great post!
And I so do not like driving in sleet. So slippery. My hands hurt afterward from gripping the steering wheel so tightly aferwards. (and a character may feel the same way!)
Where is the dividing line between weather as symbolism and weather as a window into a character’s soul?
Because to me, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain sounds, of course, cliche but also I can see how the rain could be a symbol for the tears and her mental state.
Karen Lange says
Thanks, Angela, for posting this. As always, it gives me some ideas for the WIP. I also think of power outages with freezing precipitation. I love my electricity! 🙂