Weather and Earthly Phenomena Entry: Eclipse

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).

There are two different kinds of eclipses: LUNAR and SOLAR. 

Lunar Eclipses:  In the presence of light, everything casts a shadow, including planets. The Earth's shadow stretches nearly a million miles, far enough to touch the Moon. This is what happens when the Earth passes between the moon and the sun. As the moon orbits the Earth, it falls into the Earth's shadow, which will turn a quadrant of the moon dark. As the moon continues its orbit, the shadow passes over the moon until its entire surface is darkened. Then the process is reversed as the moon moves out of the Earth's shadow; little by little, the shadow will lessen until the moon has passed completely through and is bright once again.

The quality of the shadow can vary from dark to slightly reddish, depending on which part of the Earth's shadow (the dark middle part or the lighter outer part) the moon travels through. Eclipses where the moon is made nearly invisible are called total eclipses. Lunar eclipses vary in length but usually last at least a few hours.

Solar Eclipses: A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, and the moon's shadow is cast over the Earth's surface. The position of the three players will determine if the eclipse is total or partial.

  • A total eclipse happens when a new moon is positioned directly between the Earth and the sun. These conditions occur about every year and a half and cause the moon to block out the sun completely. But the effect is only visible from a small portion of the Earth's surface (a strip about 150 km wide). From the areas outside of this strip, only a partial eclipse is seen--when the sun is only partially covered by the moon. This is why witnessing a total solar eclipse is a rarity.

  • A partial eclipse occurs when the moon, sun, and earth are not lined up perfectly. Only part of the sun and its light are blocked.
During a solar eclipse, the sky darkens as the moon slowly moves in front of the sun, blocking out light and casting the moon's shadow on the earth. When the moon has moved directly in front of the sun, the sun's corona will be seen shining around the moon. Then the effect is reversed as the moon continues its progress in front of the sun. The sky brightens with the moon's progress until the everything returns to normal. Solar eclipses usually happen every 1-2 years.


Mood: Eclipses are infrequent occurrences, and so inspire in viewers a feeling of anticipation. The sun and moon are unshakeable fixtures in our sky; when they suddenly look different, it can bring about a variety of responses: excitement, awe, anxiety, and unease. In the same way, when an eclipse is finished, viewers may feel disappointed or relieved. An event like this can also cause people to ponder questions they normally wouldn't consider, about life, destiny, the universe, and God.

Symbolism: mystical events, synchronicity, the coming together of two things that normally would be separate, miracles

Cliches: None come to mind.

Other: Eclipses are infrequent and only occur when certain factors perfectly align. When utilizing an eclipse in fiction, make sure you've laid adequate groundwork so it makes sense within the framework of your story. The different eclipses also look very different from one another, so solid research is required to make the event believable. For an example of an eclipse used effectively in fiction, check out the movie Ladyhawke. And now I've completely dated myself.

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. 


tracikenworth said...

There's lots of great things you can do with solar/lunar eclipses. Just got an idea!! Wow, thanks!!

Carrie Butler said...

Oo, I love this entry! The visuals really add to it. :)

Angela Ackerman said...

I agree, it's an event that could be used in many ways--as a way to show a timeline, as a trigger for an event, etc.

I think the only cliche I can think of is it being tied to the demonic ...I can think of a few movies where the eclipse was a signal for the Devil to rise if not thwarted, or a portal to Hell to open, that sort of thing.

Gwynneth White said...

In the second novel in my trilogy, I am using a total solar eclipse as a sign that a prophecy is about to be fulfilled. So I really like this post and especially the images. Thank you.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've always wanted to watch an eclipse from start to finish. At least I can settle for writing about them! :)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love eclipses, but I don't think I've ever included either in any of my writing. I should do something about that.

Dane Zeller said...

Maybe I shouldn't have used "isobars" in my last novel.

Robyn Campbell said...

This is excellent! The images are fantastic. I just got an awesome idea for a book I want to work on. Thanks for all you two do. What writer could live their entire writing life and not visit the Bookshelf Muse? *waving* xoxo

Laura Pauling said...

I remember Lady Hawke. Such a wonderful movie. :) Guess I dated myself too.

I love when weather is used in stories in the right way. It adds so much. I think that's b/c so much sensory details and imagery comes with it.

nutschell said...

I love these posts! They always give me some new idea. :)

Happy weekend!


Theresa Milstein said...

I try to incorporate weather, but I never thought of using an eclipse. Hmmm.

Karen Lange said...

I like this - thanks a bunch! I especially like the emotional triggers. Very good food for thought.
Have a great weekend!

Leslie Rose said...

I'm with Laura on the Lady Hawke love. I know we can completely explain eclipses scientifically, but they still have that marvelous element of magic - dark vs. light.


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