Friday, June 22, 2012

Weather and Setting

As a writer, I suppose I should place more importance on first pages than I do. I very rarely read a first page before I decide I want to read a book, so I don’t imagine other people do either. So, I hate this idea that the first page has to be the hook. I think that concept has ruined many a first page. Too many authors get the idea that they have to being with something exciting or people won’t continue reading.

As in any form of writing, the first page of a novel is an introduction to things to come. Often, that means talking about weather and setting. Some people think it is bad form to talk about weather and setting on the first page, but how else are you going to let people know what is going on around the characters. Some of the best stories ever written begin by talking about the weather.

These days, weather may not be quite as important as it used to be because so many of us spend our days inside. But interior environments have their own kind of “weather”. Have you ever walked into a building and a foul odor wrapped around you? A conversation carried on in that environment would feel very different from one in a perfume factory. A conversation in a dark alley is far different from one in a well lit board room.

We simply can’t drop a reader into a situation without giving the reader some idea of where it is taking place and what is going on around them. Think of how television shows provide setting. They show an exterior shot and then an interior shot. They always move from wide to tight, never the other way around. If they want to show that the actors are in a plane at 50,000 feet, they show a plane in the air. If they want to show they are waiting to take off, they show it at the gate. The stage they were on during filming was in neither place, but we get the idea.

We don’t have to spend a lot of time talking about weather and setting, but we do need to say enough that readers know where the story is taking place. And if we are smart, we will use the weather and setting to give the reader a hint as to what is threatening to take place.