Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Using Weather to Enhance Suspense

Weather can serve as an antagonist in any novel, whether it's  mystery, suspense, thriller or other genre. And I've used precipitation in all its forms in my own books.

In my first novel, A Village Shattered, the opaque San Joaquin 

fog hides the serial killer, but I didn’t even think about the fog until I was writing chapter three. Having lived in the valley for a dozen years, I know the horror of trying to drive in pea soup fog, so I switched seasons and went back to chapter one to add extreme weather to the plot. In doing so, it tied all aspects of the story together. 

In Diary of Murder, my second mystery, I took my sleuths out of California and placed them in a motorhome in the middle of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. Fortunately, I had actually experienced the mishap so I could write convincingly about it. The blizzard starts the novel off with suspense, but my sleuths face a similar fate later in the plot, so I had to swap some snowy details between the first and later chapters to prevent repetition.Weather plays a large role in any northern state, and can provide an element of danger to the plot.

Murder on the Interstate follows with Dana and Sarah getting caught in a flash flood in Arizona, where their rented Hummer is swept away. That happened to a friend whose experience convinced me to add the downpour to my plot. 

Snow also presents a problem for my intrepid amateur sleuths in Gray Wolf Mountain where they track a shooter who kills not only wolves but people. Victims of the shooter themselves, the two women are rescued by a quirky old man who rescues the wolves and nurses them back to health.

Murder in RV Paradise is set in Texas where the sun can bake the brain as well as fry tortillas on the hood of one's pickup truck. When my senior sleuths pull a woman's body from one of the small lakes the day of their arrival, they have to deal with not only the heat but suspicion that they committed the murder.

And, finally, Murder at the Mansion, finds Dana and Sarah fleeing a killer in Wyoming after a tornado destroys Dana's mansion. The two women wind up in a snowy backwoods cabin in the Alaskan outback where they find themselves in even more danger. My trip to Fairbanks, where I experienced an ice storm and extreme cold, helped to bring this sixth and final series novel to a suspenseful conclusion. 

I had heard before I wrote my first novel that you should never start your book with weather, but I've found that severe weather can enhance a mystery/suspense novel by fine tuning characters' reactions to it. Man or woman against nature has always intrigued readers.


Bill Kirton said...

I'm with you on this, Jean. The 'rule' never start a novel with weather is one of Elmore Leonard's famous set - but his tongue was in his cheek for some of them. I once had a review which asked why British authors were so obsessed with weather. It rather puzzled me because the only weather mentioned in the book was a hailstorm on an offshore oil rig. It was there to stress that everything about such an environment is potentially violent and dangerous but the review implied that every chapter was about meteorology. If anyone suggests weather doesn't work in novels, I always direct them to the opening of Bleak House and its brilliant use of fog.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm glad you agree, Bill. As for reviewers, I think some of them don't even read the books they review. A reviewer once said there were no descriptions of people or places in one of my mysteries although the previous reviewer complimented me on them. (Still shaking my head.)

Jackie King said...

Great post, and spot on. Weather is often scary just by itself, but add a murderer on the loose and you've got a dynamite story.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Jackie. I'm glad you agree.