1. It’s part of the setting. If your story is set in Miami, it’s probably hot and sunny. If it’s set in Portland, Oregon, it’ll be raining. Weather provides the backdrop.
2. It can become part of the story. The impending arrival of a hurricane, snow storm or other extreme weather event can add urgency or suspense to your narrative. For example, a character has to do something, but the storm threatens her plans. Or it’s started to rain and the water is rising. Will our hero get there in time?
3. Readers like weather. It’s oddly comforting to read about weather patterns. It’s interesting to read about weather out of season.
4. A weather description can provide a useful break in dialogue.
5. Describing weather stretches you as a writer. How many ways can you describe rain?
6. Weather descriptions can be used to establish time of year. Instead of just saying it’s autumn, describe the brilliant oranges and violent reds of falling leaves.
7. Weather adds atmosphere. Swirls of mist wreathing the trees, early morning mist rising from the lake, dark clouds scudding across the sky…
8. Weather can cover up or delay discovery of a crime. A body may remain undetected for days because it is buried in snow or a body left outside in summer may decompose quickly.
9. Weather can reflect a character’s mood. Poets have been using that literary device for centuries.
10. And finally, include weather because it involves the senses: the ozone-rich, earthy smell just as rain starts to fall, the sound of rain lashing against a window, the magnificence of a rainbow or the touch of a snowflake on a child’s tongue.
Here’s an example of weather creating atmosphere from my latest novel, A Small Hill to Die On.
In the last hour an ominous mist had settled over the tops of the Snowdonia Mountains, giving them a secretive look, and a heavy, patchy fog had come swirling down the valley blanketing everything it touched in a shroud of Celtic mystery. As he passed the small copse of beech trees that separated the formal gardens near the Hall from the pastures and wildflower meadows beyond the workers’ cottages he could barely make out the interwoven pattern of the black branches silhouetted against the pewter sky as the fading afternoon light seeped between the branches. And then a flash of scarlet, strident and bold against the dour, neutral tones of black and grey, caught his attention…as he came closer, peering through the fog, he saw it was a scarf draped over the branch and, hanging from it, the body of a grey-haired woman, turning slowly, her shabby boots barely skimming the ground. Every turn added another twist to the knotted red scarf that suspended her, tightening the tourniquet around her swollen, purple neck.
Elizabeth J. Duncan is the award-winning author of the Penny Brannigan traditional mystery series, set in North Wales. Elizabeth lives in Toronto with her dog, Dolly.