Q&A Followup: Storm Warning

If you included this and I just missed it, really heavy rain affects your visibility and even your ability to breathe normally, especially if it’s cold or windy. Keeping the water out of your eyes/nose/mouth can be a pain even if you’re just walking or standing there. If you have long loose hair it’ll get plastered to your face and get in your mouth or eyes.

Sort of. I intended for for this kind of context to get bundled in under, “it’s rain.” In fairness, that was already a fairly long post, because it was split between talking about adapting spectacle fighters to prose and the weather.

A lot of your suggestions ended up under the general header of, “conditions.” So, let’s talk about that for a moment.

When you’re writing, “conditions,” are an abstract concept.

Things like the weather, time of day, time of year, can all be described as, “conditions.” These modify the scene. However, as a writer, you only need to actually write about them when the have an effect on your characters’ actions or events.

If it’s a clear day, that establishes both the time of day, and the weather. So, clear weather basically means the weather doesn’t matter, while day tells you that everything outside is well lit.

If you have a heavy thunderstorm outside, that will have a lot of effects. It will darken the environment. Light from artificial sources will fall off far faster. It will add significant noise pollution (from the rainfall itself), and also from thunder. The rain will further reduce visibility. Natural surfaces (like dirt or grass) will become soaked and soft, while smooth artificial surfaces (like metal) can become slick (this is less likely with concrete or pavement, but it can happen there as well.)

It’s rain, and if you’ve lived anyplace that experiences heavy storms, most of this should be fairly second nature.

As for hair getting slicked down over your face, that’s never been my experience. Granted, I almost never wear my hair down in public, the single exception of if I’m out during a snowstorm. However, I’ve always found that my hair gets slicked down out of my face when it’s raining heavily enough for that to be a factor. Now, granted, I don’t generally get into fights in heavy rain to see what my hair will do, but even engaging in strenuous physical activity in the rain has never offered this experience.

Similarly, with the mouth and nose. Yeah, if you stand with your mouth open in the rain, you’re going to end up with rain water in your mouth (which is actually a minor health risk, as rain water is not safe to drink), however talking or breathing (even, heavily) isn’t going to fill your mouth with water. With your eyes and nose, the natural contours of your face should shield you from the worst of the downpour. (I’m actually not sure how you’d end up with rainwater up your nose, unless you were prone, or suspended upside down.)

The one time this would become a major consideration is if the rain water is so toxic as to be directly harmful. This is possible, and examples of things like acid rain are real. Needless to say, if this is severe enough to be a consideration, your characters should probably avoid skin exposure to the contaminated rainfall entirely.

Now, as a related concept, rain can be an absolute pain if you wear glasses. Your forehead doesn’t protect your glasses, and this can result in rainwater splattered across your lenses.

Part of the reason I didn’t go too into depth is because there are other potential weather conditions, and I was trying to make the post as generally useful as possible. I may have failed that one. So with that in mind:

Winter storms are a little different. If we’re talking about snow, the initial snowfall has a similar effect to rain, it will muffle noises (though this is different from how rainfall will create overwhelming background noise.) It will reduce visibility, however, it won’t cause light sources to drop off. In fact, snow can sometimes amplify artificial light, bouncing it around. Meaning, you can still see in a snowy environment, when it would be too dark under other circumstances. This is especially true if you’re in an urban environment with ambient light pollution. However active snowfall still obscures vision. Someone in the snow can still see an artificial light source, but they won’t be able to determine what’s going on around it, because that will be obscured.

Snow creates mobility issues, similar to rain. It takes considerably more effort to move through it as it accumulates, and you’re having to break through a layer of snow. However, it applies uniformly, regardless the surface. It can also conceal sudden drops in the terrain, as the accumulation will have a roughly uniform surface. If the snow has been getting compacted down over time, and this isn’t the first storm, you can end up with a layer of ice under the snow. This isn’t immediately apparent, but, of course, it will be very slipery.

Snow has two very specific side problems. Being out in the snow will cause it to accumulate on you, but your own body heat will cause it to melt, leaving you wet, in the cold. Second, if you wear glasses, your glasses will fog up, either as a result of your own breath, or if you move out of the cold and into a warmer space.

As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the only times I wear my hair down, as hair provides excellent insulation. The downside is, of course, when the snow melts, it will you with soaked hair.

It’s important to remember the conditions your characters are in while writing a scene. So, on one hand, the descriptions above may sound overly systemic, it’s almost more important to keep in mind the sensations they’d experience, than sitting there and thinking, “well, it’s raining, so the character’s vision is cut by 20%. This is also where you may want to tweak conditions to create the situation you’re looking for.

If you want the rain to be ominous, then an approaching storm which may be several hours away, with possibly some light drizzle may be all you want. This won’t affect your characters in any systematic way, but it may offer the tone you’re looking for.

If you want your characters to be at a serious disadvantage, then semi-frequent lighting strikes, rain pouring down, possibly even power outages from downed lines, can all provide that. As the writer you have control over the exact nature of what’s happening.

Best of all, those both exist in a continuum. As your characters are working ahead of the storm, you’ll have the first droplets of rain, the sky getting darker. Maybe the early lightning strikes that come well in advance of their thunderclaps. But, as the storm moves in, and the weather worsens, you gradually transition towards what you want from the weather. You’re the writer, you control this.

Tracking conditions isn’t something you need to do as a writer, but if you’re struggling it can help. You can even sketch out little cards or notes describing the conditions for a scene (sort of like stage directions), if it helps you. Just, remember to take that out during rewrites, once you’ve internalized the scene.

You can even extend this idea further, if it is helpful. Such as writing up condition reminders for character injuries, or the consequences of character’s prior actions. So long it helps you. If you don’t feel you need to write up any conditions, don’t worry about it, you don’t have to, and no one will judge you for that. However, if you’re struggling, this may be a helpful system to consider.

-Starke

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