Weather Entry: Air Pollution

 WEATHER and PHENOMENA are important elements in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).


Sight: From a distance, air pollution can appear as a grey or brownish haze that lingers in highly populated urban areas or factory and production districts. From within the area, pollution is not usually visible in the air as a collective source, but rather seen as individual contributors--a thick grey plume chugging from a production plant, powdery white smoke drifting up from cooking vents on restaurants, fumes trailing out of idling vehicle tailpipes at a stoplight, smoke drifting from a lit cigarette, etc. Other pollutants are invisible to the naked eye. Pollutants can also have a natural source such as volcanic ash or smoke from wildfires.

Smell: Pollution smells can range from an oily tang to the air, to the gasoline scent of car exhaust, to an acrid burning plastic or a host of other things (sewage, etc). Sometimes, if a person has been exposed to the environment for a long time, these smells go unnoticed. Consider the source of the pollution when fitting in scents in your scene. A beer factory gives off the odor of hops, a bakery sends out the smell of yeast, both vastly different from car exhaust or car manufacturer. One of the most common personal pollutant smells is tobacco from cigarettes (slightly sweet and musty).

Taste:  Sometimes the air can have an acrid taste to it, but the pollution needs to be very strong to notice it. 

Touch:  In itself Air Pollution is texture-less (with the exception of ash, which has a powdery texture), but it does cause health problems (lung sensitivities, emphysema & asthma). Shortness of breath and a weighted chest are symptoms a person with these conditions may experience.

Sound: Air pollution itself does not have a sound, but the source often does (car engines, factory machines, crackle from a campfire, etc) and can be woven into the story if needed.


Mood: Air pollution, depending on the level of contamination, can create a feeling of desperation or despair in the scene. It can also imply poverty or indicate poor living conditions or even a world where people are struggling to make a life, as most people do not live within such an environment by choice.

Symbolism: Technology; Industry; Corporate Greed; Capitalism; Man vs Nature; Environmental disaster; contamination

Possible Cliches:  Using pollution as a stressor for a cataclysmic event

OTHER: Pollution can be natural or man-made. It can come in the form of solid, liquid or gas and directly affects the world around us and the air we breathe. Levels of air pollution can have a range of negative repercussions, so understand what role pollution plays in your story to maximize the effects of it.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.


Theresa Milstein said...

I've used weather to try to evoke mood. I try not being cliche. After reading this post, I'll look back and make sure.

No girls crying in the rain!

Shilpa said...

Very helpful post...I have not used weather as a window to my character's emotion but then, I am not good at describing places or people. But I am learning now and your blog is my bible! Thanks!

Bish Denham said...

I have incredible pictures of NYC from 1967 from the top of the Empire State Building and show just how bad the smog used to be there. It was terrible!

Susanne Dietze said...

Helpful post. I like your tip on adding contrast using weather in my stories. Thanks!

Laura Pauling said...

I love reading and realizing the symbolism in stories. It just makes it that much deeper esp. when it's not obvious! Great stuff! :)

catwoods said...

I typically use weather as an antagonist, if you will. My characters usually act impulsively in some way--despite the signs of impending weather--and end up in an external struggle in addition to their internal ones.

Blizzards, storms at sea, perpetual rain that threatens the farming community's livlihood.

Thanks so much for this great reminder that weather is much more than the outward appearance of our characters' internal struggles.

Carrie Butler said...

Very nice! I had to bite back a reflex cough. ;)

Becca Puglisi said...

Wonderful job, as always, Angela. I can definitely see how pollution can lead to an atmosphere of desperation.

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. Yes, I think sometimes people are afraid to use weather because they hear editors say things like, 'Write a story, not a weather report' but all this really means is to write succinct, MEANINGFUL weather description that ties into events, not rambling, meaningless paragraphs describing the weather and setting to 'set up' a story.

Weather is a powerful way to create pressure on the MC & possibly stand in the way of their goals or even just evoke mood or foreshadow events. Use everything in your writing arsenal, right?

As always--so glad you visited! :)


tracikenworth said...

Scary idea of such happening but great background for future society. I can see this coming up very handy.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I have used weather sometimes to reflect tension (stormy dark clouds and a storm brewing). A couple of times I have used weather as an antagonist that comes in the way of the protagonist's goals.

Julie Musil said...

Hey, is that L.A.? Ugh. Before our state clamped down on pollution, I remember my lungs actually hurting from this stuff. At least it's better now. Great job on capturing all things pollution!

Jeff King said...

Very good post... I'll use this one a lot.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Weather is something I need to "beef up" in my writing. I'm loving this series, Angela. :-)


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