Weather Thesaurus Entry: Heat Wave

WEATHER is an important element 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: panting dogs, people sweating through their clothes, animals and people more lethargic than usual, a pale cloudless sky, a general decrease of animals and people outside for long periods of time (at playgrounds, exercising, at the park, etc.), increased acts of violence, brushfires and wildfires, shimmery heat waves rising off the concrete

Smell: hot air, asphalt, sweat

Taste: n/a

Touch: clothes sticking to the body, sweat slicking the skin almost immediately upon stepping foot outside, hot air rolling over you as if you were standing in front of an oven, sunburn, the feel of heavy air weighing you down

Sound: the crunch of dry grass under your feet, air conditioners and oscillating fans blowing full-blast, weather reports issuing from TVs and radios, people complaining/talking about the heat


Mood: Heat has an escalating effect on emotions. Long-term heat makes people crankier, impatient, and short-tempered. Violent acts often increase during a prolonged heat wave. Being uncomfortable without knowing when it will end and being powerless to do anything about it can evoke feelings of desperation. The lethargy that accompanies prolonged heat can slow mental processes and effect production at work and school.

Symbolism: oppression, sin/punishment, 

Possible Cliches: the heat wave that builds throughout the story, only to break at the climax or point of revelation; the heat wave as a backdrop for the steamy love scene; the heat wave that is broken by a welcome rain just before the crops go under

OTHER: Technical definitions vary, but a heat wave is widely accepted as being two or more days of excessively hot weather (which varies according to region). Power outages are common, as are burst water lines, wildfires, heat stroke, and increased mortality among infants, the elderly, and the chronically ill.

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.


Dianne K. Salerni said...

Interesting entry and something I've never consciously thought about. Thinking back over all my manuscripts, I realize that I never wrote any weather into the first drafts and kept track of seasons only as part of the chronology (occasionally holidays appear).

However, I can think of several occasions where I went back and added weather in revisions, to enhance mood, primarily, but also to provide catalyst for certain events.

Brainstorming a new story now ... I'm going to think about weather from the beginning and see what role it might play. Great post!

Matthew MacNish said...

One potential taste might be the saltiness of sweat that drips into the mouth, because when it's hot enough, you can never wipe all of it away.

Another great entry!

Rose Anderson ~ Romance Novelist said...

As a fellow Wordie, I must say that I love this post and the site! Very useful, very evocative. Thanks a bunch.
~Rose Anderson

Kristen said...

Thanks for some of these reminders--I have major heat in my story and I think I took out the part where my mc's clothes are sticking to her...better fix that.
Love the animals getting lethargic, too. So true.

Laura Pauling said...

Awesome! I could use a heat wave right about now! Great job with this.

Traci Kenworth said...

My least favorite weather is the
heat wave. Lol. Of course, I don't
care for the cold either. I guess I
just like the temps mild. Sigh. That
time of years almost gone here.

Angela Ackerman said...

I tell you, with WINTER breathing down our necks here in Calgary...I could SO USE A HEAT WAVE right now. I think Becca and I should switch houses for a few months every year!


Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love it that you include the mood, symbolism and cliches with these entries. :-)

Carrie Butler said...

Great post, Becca! I could practically feel the heat radiating from it. Whew!

P.S. I second Matthew's comment. :)

Becca Puglisi said...

Oh yes, definitely should have included the sweaty taste. Thanks for that tip!

Lydia Kang said...

So true! I don't think I use weather nearly as much as I could.

Kelly Polark said...

Good post. I will refer back to this, this month as my current mg is set in the heat of the summer!

Gail Shepherd said...

Whenever I think of heat waves in film there are two movies that come to mind: Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, where the summer temperatures mirror the psychological boil that's coming to a head in all the characters; and Body Heat: sexual misadventures in sweaty south Florida.

Leslie Rose said...

Don't forget sinus torture! There isn't enough bottled water and chap stick in the world for some of our blasted So. Cal heat waves.


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