Whither Weather?

Over on the Dorothy-L list, there’s been a discussion recently about the use, or over-use, of weather in mystery novels (and, by extension, fiction in general). If I must give an opinion, I’ll say that weather is like many of the other tools available to the writer: it may be used well or poorly, depending on the skill of the author. The Dorothy-L discussion has highlighted many fine examples of its effective use.

But I welcome the discussion mostly because it gives me an excuse to post a favorite bit from a favorite writer, Mark Twain, which at least shows that discussions of the deployment of weather in fiction have been going on for some time. The preface to one of Twain’s books reads:

THE WEATHER IN THIS BOOK.

No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood.

Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. Nothing breaks up an author’s progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of weather are bad for both reader and author.

Of course weather is necessary to a narrative of human experience. That is conceded. But it ought to be put where it will not be in the way; where it will not interrupt the flow of the narrative. And it ought to be the ablest weather that can be had, not ignorant, poor-quality, amateur weather. Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article of it. The present author can do only a few trifling ordinary kinds of weather, and he cannot do those very good. So it has seemed wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts–giving credit, of course. This weather will be found over in the back part of the book, out of the way. See Appendix. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along.

I first encountered this in The Unabridged Mark Twain published by The Running Press in the ’70s, but thanks to the miracle of the internet, I now learn that it first appeared in his 1892 novel The American Claimant, which apparently was something of a sequel to The Gilded Age. I’ll leave you with this link to the library of the University of California Berkeley, which has a PDF of the first page of Twain’s handwritten manuscript of this preface.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Whither Weather?

  1. Robert Lopresti

    I remember William Malloy, editor at Mysterios Press many years ago, telling me that he was very fond of one of William Marshall’s Yellowthread Street novels because it was the only book he knew featuring bad weather in which the storm didn’t miraculously stop as soon as the bad guy was defeated. can’t recall the title, alas.

  2. Somewhere along the line (of writing the Akitada novels), I became aware that weather is forbidden to crime writers. It is a capital sin at the start of a book. This put me in a quandary. I’d been writing weather. Weather sets the mood and can become part of the action. More importantly, the Japanese people I was writing about loved weather. They made it part of their poetry, they painted it, they designed their homes so they could watch its changes and its effects on the world around them. Clearly, I could not deprive the reader of this important cultural detail. So I still write weather.

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