Well, it was a crazy weekend for some of you. And the effects of Hurricane Irene may still be a problem (i.e. flooding and power outages). Regardless, glad you made it and hope you’re unscathed or at least able to fix the problem easily.
Along those lines, thought I’d give you some writing prompts/tips. I thought about this because I was worried about all the people I care about who were in the path of Irene, and I got to thinking about how climate and weather can determine what we do and where we go. That got me thinking about the 1948 Humphrey Bogart film, Key Largo, in which Bogart plays a guy who goes down to Key Largo to visit a friend of his. Turns out the friend was a hotel owner, but when Bogie gets there, a gangster has taken control of the hotel. Well, you just know these two are slated for a showdown and the catalyst turns out to be a hurricane.
Or, more recently (though not much, if you’re a youngster), think about how a thunderstorm played a role in a pivotal scene in the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption. Here’s the scene, when character Andy (played by Tim Robbins) makes his escape. You’ll see the role the weather starts to plays at around 1.00 (and not just creepy, tense atmosphere).
And that, in turn, got me thinking about writing prompts.This one, I’ve found, is particularly good if you’re having some trouble coming up with ideas or you just want to work on your powers of description.
Want more? Read on…
Pick a weather situation. Doesn’t matter what, just something that you’re interested in and would like to explore further. Plop a character into that situation, and write a scene in which the character has to interact in some way with the weather, or has to be affected in some way by it. It doesn’t even have to be an extreme event, like a hurricane. It can be something like a thunderstorm, in which your character has to go to a meeting but oh, darn, the storm is so bad that it slows traffic down. Maybe there’s an accident ahead and traffic is at a standstill for a long time. What does your character think about during that time? What if he sees a car on the side of the road with a flat tire and he stops to help that person? What if…whatever?
Or how about you’ve got two characters and they’re thrown together as a result of weather circumstances? Weather could be a factor in a flight cancellation at an airport, and it doesn’t even have to be at the airport at which your characters are stuck. Bad weather in Atlanta, for example, slows down flights from Chicago.
Or weather itself could be a major player, like in Jack London’s short story, To Build a Fire. There, weather determines the actions and choices of the character, and those choices in turn play a role in what happens to the main character.
You might be feeling kinda groovy about this writing prompt, so take it a step further and think about how climate can operate as a setting and, by extension, as a character. That’s different than weather. Weather is what happens on a day-to-day basis. Climate is what’s characteristic over a long time of a particular area. For example, Albuquerque, New Mexico can experience a thunderstorm as a weather condition. But its climate is considered “high desert.” So that means it’s not very humid in Albuquerque, and that will affect its temperatures in the different seasons, and thus affect what people wear, do, eat, and grow in that climate. That, in turn, can help influence a regional culture, and even in this country, there are very different regional cultures at play.
So when you decide where you want to set a story or novel, you can enrich it when you think about how that setting helps determine the culture of the area, which can also influence how someone interacts with other characters. Someone raised in a socially conservative area of the Southeast, for example, is going to interact differently with people than someone raised in an “artsy-fartsy” community in Oregon. And a transplant from one part of the country to another may hold on to aspects of his or her life that are familiar, even though he or she is hundreds of miles away.
For example, I lived for a few years east of the Mississippi River. I had come from the arid West, and thus had never purchased an umbrella. Ever. I never needed one. Until I made that move. And even then, it took me four months to remember to buy one because back west where I was from, rain was different than east. A rainstorm hits in the afternoon, then ends about twenty-thirty minutes later. Plus, when it ends, the air dries pretty quickly, so you do, too. As a result, an umbrella was just never at the front of my mind because even when it did rain, it wasn’t something that lasted very long and things dried out quickly.
Living elsewhere, I had to train my brain and adopt a different approach. Different climate, different cultural accessory: umbrella.
There you go. To sum up, writing prompts:
1) weather situation, write a scene with a character affected by it
2) weather situation, write a scene with two characters affected by it
3) setting/climate, write a scene in which your character is a transplant and has to negotiate the new situation
4) setting/climate, write a scene in which your character is a tourist and has to deal with something he or she doesn’t quite grasp
5) setting/climate, write a few paragraphs in which you describe a locale in terms of not only how it looks, but cue a reader as to how its appearance might be a function of the climate of the area