Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Partly Cloudy With a Chance of Rain: Weather and Fiction

Have you ever thought about what weather adds to your story, or if it adds anything? Do you ever ask yourself it using weather is an effective way to influence a scene or a character's actions or reactions?  The answer is, you should.

Think about how many times in a movie or on TV, you've seen a character get some really bad news, while outside the sky is filled with thunder and lightning, and rain is slamming the windows.  A scene filled with drama and tension on the inside, and outside, the dark and stormy night ( or day) creates the proper mood in order to strengthen the emotional impact.  Isn't that what you want to do with your story?  Strengthen the emotional impact upon the reader?

Think about the other ways you can use weather to add excitement to your story.  How about irony?  Janie has just found out that her boyfriend has ditched her for her best friend.  She has been crying for hours.  Her face is red and patchy, her eyes are swollen, her throat is hoarse.  She feels alone and deserted by two of the most important people in her life.  But outside, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, her younger brother and sister are screaming and laughing with their friends.  Even the weather is against her.  In a scene like this, a bright, beautiful day can add more to the feeling of isolation  and despair for your MC than any rainstorm could possibly do.

Weather can create a life-threatening situation for your characters, also.  Suppose the MC and her boyfriend have gone sailing.  It's a cool, crisp, sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, just a mild enough breeze to make sailing great.  But before they realize what is happening, a terrible squall comes up.  The waves are huge, the wind is high, the kids don't know how to get the boat back into the bay, and even if they did, the weather wouldn't allow it.  What will happen?  Will the sailboat capsize?  Will they drown?

Weather can raise the stakes for your characters, and increase the tension for your readers.  Your MC has had a bad fight with her boyfriend, and she walks out of the high school dance alone.  She's crying, so she doesn't realize that what is known as "tulle fog" ( a real phenomenon in California) has come up.  She can't see two feet in front of her face.  She can't see the street lights or the cars as they come past her.  But she CAN hear the footsteps behind her, footsteps that slow down when she slows, speed up when she speeds up.  And she know there is a rapist/killer loose in town, who stalks and kidnaps girls her age.  Is this her boyfriend coming after her, or the killer, ready to pounce at any moment?  How can she tell, when the fog is so thick she not only can't see behind her, but her voice is silenced as though a heavy veil has been thrown over her face?

There are many ways to use weather to enrich your story.  It makes a scene become three-dimensional, rather than two.  It gives your characters the ability to feel the impact of what they are dealing with...and it surely gives you, the author, a fantastic chance to show what's happening, rather than tell what's happening.  Weather is important to any story, important in creating imagery for the reader, and important in exacting the thoughts and emotions of your characters.  Try it, you'll like it !

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sports, Awards, and Self-Image

I heard something on TV this morning that got me to thinking.  It was all about the awards that are given out in the sports arena, especially for kids up to about high school age.

The discussion was about giving awards out to all the members of a winning team vs giving one for Best Player or Most Valuable Player, etc., as well as giving awards to every kid who participates in a sporting event of any kind, even if it is a one-on-one event.  The whole idea is involved with the self-image of the kid.

When my kids were young, they were never involved in anything but Boy and Girl Little League or Softball, etc.  But some of their respective friends were, and we often went as a family to watch the boys' Little League games or the Girls Softball League.  We saw pats on the head and great praises given to all members of the winning team, with the Captain usually given a trophy, and certain players, both boys and girls, being given trophies or ribbons for Most Valuable Player and so on.

Those kids on the winning teams who didn't get trophies never cried or complained.  They crowded around their captains and ohed and ahed about his trophy, which would soon have ALL of their names on it;  they admired the MVP awards, and stoutly maintained that next season it would go to them.  They they all whooped and hollered, and went gleefully off to the local pizza parlor to celebrate.  Ego?  What was that?  Self-image?  Wasn't that what you saw in the mirror?

Today, it seems that things are different.  In order to ensure a good self-image, EVERYONE on the winning team must have a trophy...each exactly the same.  Who determined that?  The kids?  No, I don't think so.  From what I've been hearing and reading lately, the whimpy kids who didn't get a trophy decided to throw a bunch of tantrums, so the parents got together, stormed the fortress of the coaches, and demanded a change.  Instead of sitting the kids down, and explaining why some get trophies and others don't, instead of teaching the kids good sportsmanship, and what it takes to make a winning team, the parents give in to bad manners and spoiled actions, and take issue with time-honored traditions.

What does it teach a child about doing his best when his best is never treated any differently from someone who just "gets along?"  Doesn't it teach that mediocrity is all you need to get "the spoils of war?"  Doesn't it teach that there is really no point in working hard and putting more effort into "being the best", because you are going to get the exact same kind of recognition that every other child gets, no matter what?

"They" say that giving the same award to all the kids, in any kind of competition today, not just solely for sports, is "improving" their self-image, but that giving recognition to ONLY those who win, or get the best grade in an essay contest, or whatever kind of competition is going on, is going to deflate the ego and damage the self-image of the child.

Yet...we are a society of people who strive daily to do their succeed, to achieve goals.  Our nation is built upon the premise that we are the strongest because we are the best...we are composed of people who have always put forth their best. Mediocrity has never had its place in the building and prosperity of America.

So if we are now teaching our children that everyone wins, that there is no "best effort" needed to win the prize, whatever it may be, what does that bode for this country and this society?  Will we become, in future generations, a society of mediocrity, a nation no longer the strongest and the best?  If we teach our children that everyone wins, that there is no clearly defined "winner,"  that "their best" is just not necessary, what does that mean?

Self-image should not be based upon a group mentality, whether it is one of superiority or of medocrity.  It should be an independent collection of one's unique talents, abilities, and feelings of worth to others in his/her family, friends and community.  But if kids grow up to believe that everything they do, learn, know, and show to others is the same, that no one does better or worse, knows more or less, learns more easily or with more difficulty, and so on, doesn't that mean that individuality is lost, and that "self-image" becomes a mere reflection of a group mentality?

What do you think?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.