Blame it on the Weather, Man
There is a stereotype of British people that we're always talking about the weather. It's probably quite an accurate one. According to a recent survey, on average, British people talk about the weather three times a day and will spend four months of our lives chuntering about whether the sun has got his hat on, whether it's raining cats and dogs or whether there's a possibility of a white Christmas. So, here I am, a British person, waffling on about the weather once more.
Joking aside, the weather is an important part of our lives and should therefore be an important part of the stories we write. Weather affects our mood and our outlook. It affects the decisions we make, whether we go out or stay in. It can catch us unawares and propel us into spontaneous action. There are extremes of weather (monsoons, hurricanes, lightning, blizzards) and weird weather (snow in summer, noctilucent clouds, moonbows). And all of this can be used to enhance the atmosphere and realness of a story.
However, writing about the weather can be problematic. Some of you may have dozed off by now (apologies!) because, whilst we talk about the weather a lot, it isn't usually the most thrilling of topics. It can be a bit like the 'ums' and 'ahs' and 'rights' that we tend to filter out when we're writing dialogue. Weather can also be full of clichés - the sun is blazing, the rain is lashing down. But on the flip side of the coin, there are some wonderful expressions associated with the weather. I love "cow-quaker" to describe a summer storm or how about "it's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"? We can be "under the weather", we can be "on cloud nine", we can "chase rainbows". There can be "a storm in a teacup" or even a tempest or a tornado.
I've picked out six pieces of flash fiction this month that have the weather at their heart. They show what can be done with frost and hurricanes and rain. They show how idiom can be used to add intrigue, how weather systems can be given personalities all of their own. Weather is an integral part of the stories they tell but it is not the be all and end all of the story. There are layers to them - sometimes epic in scope, sometimes honing in on the microscopic details in a situation or relationship. The weather is used to reflect the narrative and to enhance it. They are stories that will "brighten up your day", they are "bolts from the blue", they are beautifully crafted pieces of flash like "moonbows in a teacup."
Ingrid Jendrzejewski | Streetlight Mag
The first thing that stands out in this piece are the proverb sub-titles. They provide a contrast in tone and texture to the rest of the story through their rhyme and light-hearted nature. If you read them by themselves (and skip over the narrative in between), they perfectly encapsulate the emotional journey and I really like how they become progressively shorter and less obscure as we move through the piece. The story itself is told in the first paragraph of each segment. The use of future tense brings to mind a weather forecast; the premonitory foreboding in the "blood from her little finger [mingling] with [the] Bolognese." The writing is wonderfully light and belies that sense of threat underneath. I love the playfulness in "He is happy for her but he is also not happy for her. He will not say that he is not happy"; the humour in his list of complaints. It makes what happens next even more powerful. I wasn't expecting him to hit her but it is clearly signposted in the preceding proverb, in the three "beware" sentences at the end of the first segment and the talk of "Storms that catch one by surprise."
Exodus Oktavia Brownlow | Jellyfish Review
This story is wonderfully universal - whilst it is set in Mississipi, we could easily imagine it happening wherever we live, on the verge of any unusual event (not necessarily weather related). This universality is enhanced by the fact there are no named characters and many of the later sentences start with an anonymous "they". There's not even a focal household or family around which the story revolves. It is the story of a town but it is equally a universal exploration of humanity. I love the imagery - "a sheet of coldness, thicker than homemade grandma quilts"; "trees, nearly thick as a giant’s leg, snapping from branch to root". There are great flecks of humour - comparing this unexpected cold to an "assault"; "how quickly the bread aisles are obliterated" - where word choice is key. The use of repetitive phrase openings adds a lyrical element to the writing. We are invited to "listen closely" to three actions that aren't normally associated with sound. Further down "a much older somebody [...] talks about a storm from the year 19 something-something" and the mixture of memories is cleverly chosen for their combination of joy and sorrow. The final paragraph leaves us with a question to answer - the metaphorical meaning of the crack "sweet and soft like a snowflake at first, then suddenly, violently, and all at once, shattering."
Tommy Dean | Claw and Blossom
The first sentence of this story expertly packs in so much information that sets up the present-day scenario, the backstory and a sense of the narrator's character. I love how "Hurricane Jacob prowls" - it's a great verb choice just like how the rain "pop[s] and sizzle[s]", "the landmarks [are] aquariumed by the flood" and the boat "[trowels] through the confettied remains of your card collection." They provide such strong images, unique and memorable. The faux Star Wars nativity in the second paragraph is another one. It is absurdly comic but it also shows us how the narrator is making do with what she has been left with after her partner has abandoned her. There are wonderful layers to this story and beneath the hurricane and the rescue and the abandoning father, this is also an exploration of the importance (or not) of our earthly possessions. "Ought to stay close to the things that keep us alive," says the pilot of the boat "while swirling eddies claim the bodies of G.I. Joes and Power Rangers rather than our own."
Sheree Shatsky | Fictive Dream
This brilliant story is full of poetical techniques. In the first paragraph, we have the rhyme in "twirling hurly burly" and the alliteration in "big bugger" / "squat size and stature" - both of these do so much to set the playful tone of the piece. As fiction writers, one of the golden rules we have drummed into us is to show rather than tell - but here the choice to tell rather than show in "the weather seems confused and disorganized" is clever as it gives personality to the weather and turns it into a character ready for that lovely line - "the storm is a child." I love the humorous interaction between woman and baby hurricane, especially the promise to go to Disney World and the innocent claim that "Mom was forty sheets to the wind." And there is real emotion here too. Beneath the fantastical nature of the story, this is about a lost child, one who wavers between pugnacious and afraid until in the fantastic finale, "he blasts towards the part that makes him whole, engulfing his sweet lost self into the tropical force of his mother."
Kathy Fish | Masters Review
I came across this story in Kathy's masterclass on creating emotional urgency. I think I'm right in saying that the narrative uses a technique called epistrophe - the word "rain" repeated at the end of every sentence. It builds and builds in the reader's mind; the rhythm of it like raindrops. And the overall rhythm of this piece is really clever. The first paragraph is populated by short, sharp, staccato sentences reflecting the gritty meaning of the words. The echoic nature of "fallen" and "falling" / "haunted" and "haunting" and the wonderful internal rhyme of "entrenched" / "drenched" / "clenched" add to the overall urgent nature of the writing. And then we are allowed a pause for breath. The second paragraph is three much longer sentences full of body parts and animals connected by lots of "and"s. The effect of this gives the reader a very different texture; the emotions have changed from the frenetic opening to something more like wonder. And finally, in the third paragraph, the sentences concertina back to short, sharp punches once again. There is so much trust in the reader here to take all of these fragments and put them together. I love that combination at the end of "Loss rain" and "Toy-soldiers-on-the-windowsill rain." And then that final gut-punch - "The one-good-thing-we-made rain."
Damhnait Monaghan | Lunate Fiction
I couldn't resist ending this month's blog with this fantastic micro. I always think the challenge with a micro is packing in enough hints that a reader can imagine the rest of the story beyond what is on the page - and here, I have such an image of these "weather girls." I love how everything is brought back to the weather - their names, the snapping of their gum "loud as thunder." There is so much foreboding in the mothers' "long-range forecasts" and that is where we, as the reader, are invited to expand the story; the consequences of the wildfire that "will not be extinguished."
If you've enjoyed this month's selection of pieces by Damhnait, Exodus, Ingrid, Kathy, Sheree and Tommy, please let them know on Twitter or leave a comment below...
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