Wednesday, October 12, 2016

My Guest: Fiona Quinn

My Guest this week is a little under the weather...  in fact, we all are, as are the characters in the novels we read, and she's going to show us some clever ways authors can use this to immerse readers into scenes on the page. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Fiona Quinn

How’s the Weather? 
In Your Novel, 
It Makes a Difference.

Last weekend, I was out in the woods on an Evacuation Team with Search and Rescue. It was ninety degrees (32º C). Things had cooled down quite a bit from the last time I was out on a manhunt; that day it had been over a hundred (39º C) with a wall of humidity.

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Since I write Romantic Suspense/thrillers, I always try to note my experiences so I can bring my written words to life. In the case of searching for someone in the woods, weather matters. And I want to make the broader point that weather matters in all of our writing scenes.

Let’s start with my evac event as an example. In order to go into the woods, rescuers need to dress out; that is, we’re required to wear certain clothing to maintain our safety: boots, wool socks, long pants, long sleeved shirt, eye protection, helmet, heavy leather gloves. I was covered from head to toe except for the three or so inches between my glasses and my shirt collar. On top of that, I carried a rescue pack and equipment like rappelling webbing, a backboard, and a litter, as well as first aid bag, water for the victim and food. Water weighs a lot. Especially the amounts carried in for the heat. Ninety degrees. Remember that.

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In ninety-degree weather, a rescuer can quickly need rescuing. Rescuers are human beings, too. While often portrayed as heroic and never being aware of things like heat, Mother Nature really isn’t that kind. In ninety-degree heat, with or without the extra equipment, in that clothing, your character will be sopping wet with sweat. The sweat will make the dirt on the skin muddy. It will bring the bugs a-buzzing. It will make the character thirsty, tired, and probably a bit irritable. It will make the clothing cling uncomfortably to the skin, will increase the friction on the feet, forming blisters. Physical exertion in that weather will increase the need for water. Increase the chance of heat stroke. Use the weather to increase the misery of your character (nothing should be going well for them anyway.) 

Think about all of the wonderful ways you can describe the event once you take into account the weather: heat, cold, rain, drought, wind – it’s all plotting fodder.

The weather gives a writer plenty of ways to add beats into conversations instead of tags. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term 'beat', what I mean is that I would give environmental information or physical activity to the scene. It’s very important to resituate a reader, reminding them what’s going on. “Did you bring enough webbing?” (instead of saying, “she asked.”) Stella shielded her eyes from the sudden glare of sunlight as they moved into the clearing. This last example reminds us she’s in the woods. Here’s an example with orienting to time of day and the weather without saying, “It was four o’clock.”

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The sun struck Gloria in the eye as she pushed into the clearing. They’d only have a few more hours of daylight. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in the woods overnight in her sweat saturated clothes and with no fire making equipment. This was a disaster in the making. With the storm moving in and the temperatures dropping so fast, how could they possibly keep the victim safe when they hadn’t prepared to protect themselves from hypothermia?

See how I also used the weather to predict a horrible outcome? That’s a hook that encourages readers to keep reading to see if that is what happened and how the characters handled the new mini-crisis. Or how they thwarted that crisis from arising in the first place.

More ways to use the weather to help your plot:

*         In the weather, you must dress your character. Clothing choices tell a lot about a character’s aesthetics and personality.

*         How they deal with feeling physically uncomfortable tells a great deal about a character’s personality. Do they grumble in their head? Do they bitch about it and want someone to solve the problem for them? Do they make themselves comfortable despite those around them? All very telling.

*         In the weather you have personal preference that gives minor information. For two of my kids, it can never be hot enough. Hundred degree days, and they feel nicely warm. One of my kids wants to move to Alaska so she will finally be cold enough. Weather is a source of conflict. If one character is cranking the air-conditioning to feel comfort while the other is turning blue and chattering, you have a dynamic that many people can relate to.

*        Weather adds to the ambiance
o        Maybe it sets the scene: Are your lovers walking through a warm summer rain and stopping in a gazebo to wait it out? They can finally take a moment and discuss how deeply they’ve fallen in love, now that the rain made them stop in an isolated place.
o        Mirrors the emotion: Is the countryside bleakly painted in winter greys and browns? Does it look as devastated as your character feels?
o      Mocks the character: It’s spring: the flowers are beautiful; couples are falling in love everywhere, and Joe just got jilted by Sadie – oh the irony of it being the season of love and your heroes heart got thrown to the ground and trampled.

If you’re a writer, I hope you’ll take advantage of the weather to help give your prose a visceral reality. Use it as the colors for painting your backdrop. Use it as a way of conveying character details. Use it to make all hell break loose and put your characters in difficult situations. Use it to best engage your readers, because we all have experienced how weather affects us.

If you’re a reader, I hope you enjoy how subtle things are written into the storyline to help you immerse yourself into the imaginary world, helping you to leave reality behind for a short time. Look for the weather next time you’re reading a book.

As my pilot friends say, Blue skies!

Canadian born, Fiona Quinn is now rooted in the Old Dominion outside of D.C. with her husband and four children. There, she homeschools, pops chocolates, devours books, and taps continuously on her laptop. Fiona is the author of the bestselling Lynx Series, with Book One, 'Weakest Lynx', a Kindle Scout book, the author of the Amazon bestseller 'Mine', and 'Chaos Is Come Again', and is the creative force behind the popular blog ThrillWriting. She also is a contributor to Virginia Is for Mysteries,
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Thank you, Fiona. If, like me, you are a die-hard fan of Fiona's Lexi Sobado character, you may want to know there's a little gem of a Lynx tale in a new short story anthology, 'Crooked Tales', where Lexi and a a few familiar friends go on a mini-mission - and the weather forms an important part of the tale too!

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