Saturday, January 29, 2011

"It was a dark and stormy night."

“It was a dark and stormy night”—probably one of the most recognizable opening lines to a novel, and one of the worst. Telling, not showing and why, when there’s so many wonderful ways to paint a storm with words?

And here's one of the best by Ray Bradbury:  "The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied."

Weather can affect all our senses, from ozone in the air left after lightning strikes, to raindrops kissing naked flesh. As a writer, I feel it is one of the best ways to engage a reader and draw them into my story. I love to use the weather in my stories. It gives me the opportunity to flex my artistic muscle and see if I can immerse you in my world. Bits and pieces, hints of what the world is doing, can be found scattered around my text.

Here are a few excerpts. Some are from WIPs, others from published novels.

Blown Away, (Happy Trails): The heat from the star blasted down, steaming the pools of water left on the streets from the late afternoon shower. Humidity twisted and danced around like a specter. The women’s perfumes clung to the ghosts, clotting the district with a nauseating sweetness that was an elegant scent when solo, but when combined, it reeked like a field of rotting flowers and fruits. Jenna’s stomach rolled. She pressed the back of her hand to her nose in an attempt to block it.

Slipping the Past: She should’ve left him before it came to this, but she worried about the trouble he’d get into on his own. At least this way she could try to keep him from doing something stupid. Which at the moment, she seemed to be failing at miserably.

“I’m going in there to take what we need. We can’t help being hungry,” he said

“Sit with me and stay warm. I’ll be fine.” She reached up and grabbed his hand.

“No.” He pulled away. “Stay here, out of sight.”

“Don’t go in there. Something doesn’t feel right.” That wasn’t a lie. Whatever triggered the unease gnawed at the corners of her consciousness. It was there, flashing danger alerts through her brain, waiting for an opportunity to strike and the last person she wanted to be a target, wouldn’t listen to her.

“I’ll be okay. I’m only going to nick some food and credit. Small stuff.” Nate tucked a loose strand of her hair into her hood. “I'll be right back. Nobody’s going to get hurt.” He turned. His boots crunched on the snow as he walked away, stringing her nerves tighter.

Jocelyn leaned against the brick. Idiot. What did he think he’d accomplish? He’d get her one meal and lose his soul over it. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn. Why wouldn’t he listen? She’d be okay. She’d come out of worse situations than this.


Bells jangled from across the street as he entered the store. Jocelyn’s stomach twisted into knots. Heat blew up from the grate where she sat on her heels, but it didn’t help the foreboding chill that blanketed her body. She raised her wrist to her mouth and chewed on her jacket’s frozen cuff.

“Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.” She rocked and focused. Nothing. Only that feeling as it grew stronger. “Get out, Nate,” she whispered, mentally reaching for him. No contact.

Nate, listen to me.

The wind whistled between the buildings, but nothing else.

Hear No Evil (WIP): Shit. Not good. Not only did that not seem to bother them, they hadn’t left. She’d seen enough horror shows to know the blonde caught alone in the office at the hour she’d been caught, always became worm fodder because of some guy with a big knife, or axe, or machete. Oh please not a machete. With the war display down the hall, they could take their pick of any number of fun and exciting ways to gut her. She closed her eyes and visualized the inventory. No, the machete wasn’t so bad.

Someone threw their weight against the door. Paxton yipped. Okay, get the hell out of the office, dipshit. What are you waiting for? She bit her lip and crawled across the floor to a window behind her desk, scrambling as fast as she could on her hands and knees. Worm fodder, worm fodder, worm fodder.

The bolt would hold. The glass was shatter resistant, but that door… She’d been the idiot to request the hand-carved replica of an antique temple door. Balsa was an easy wood to carve or so she’d been told and it was glued to a hollow core cheapie. Nice secure choice, i-d-i-o-t.

She bit her lip, grabbed her purse and pulled the window open. Paxton kicked off her heels and stuck her head out. The street sat five stories below. Snow floated down so heavy it made it impossible to see the building across the way. Slick, windy, stupid, mustn’t forget the stupid part. “Oh God.” What had she gotten herself into?

Two windows over and she’d be in the kitchen. Maybe she need only ask what they want? Why risk her neck? “Can I help you?” she called.

The entire door shook and Paxton swallowed. Okay, that would be a no. She stuck her head back out. Fifteen feet, perhaps? From the kitchen she could exit into another hallway and take the fire escape to the ground floor where the security officer was stationed and hopefully alive. The door banged again as someone slammed into it. But then again, in the movies the psycho always got the guard first.

She climbed onto the brownstone sill and pressed her bottom against the stone blocks. This was crazy. She was crazy. The snow and rough surface would destroy her favorite silk suit. The door rattled again, vibrating the contents of her office. Who the fuck cared?

Don’t look down. Focus. You can do this. Step and slide. Step and slide. She shuffled sideways, pushing the snow along the ledge like a plow, refusing to even take a peek at the street below. She’d lose her courage and now was not the time or place for that.

In one hand she held her purse the other her sling-backs hooked on a finger. The designer heels had cost her a fortune and she wasn’t about to leave them behind. A silly thing to worry about when one was shuffling along a ledge, but there were needs and wants and the shoes were a definite need.

Whoever was trying to break in had to have seen the light and thought that she might have the combination to the vault? Surely a thief, not someone that watched as Dr. Moore speculated. She had to believe that, anything else was too scary to contemplate.

Step and slide. Step and slide. She continued to move along the sill until the window was behind her. She pushed it open and crawled through. Not so bad. They couldn’t know she was in the kitchen, but she shouldn’t stick around for them to find out.

Hear No Evil (excerpt 2): Nate down shifted and pulled onto an exit. “I don’t like who I am, or what I’ve become.” The border sat one hundred miles ahead. Since the United States merged with their neighbors to the north and south, the borders were unmanned. Anyone standing on the continent was a citizen of the UR, United Regions. Enter at your own risk.

“You’re not Ian Saefa.”

“Then who am I? Because I’m not Nate Miller anymore either.”

Waves of heat warped the air in front of them. It wasn’t even noon and the blacktop from the old highway already smoked. It was dangerous to be out at this time of day, in the open in a vehicle like the glider. The small population that resided in the middle of the United Regions lived underground and only came out at night to man the power stations and the condensers that generated water for the residents. Not much was known about them. They kept to themselves and very rarely did an Enforcer enter their territory to dispense justice.

With the holes in the ozone, very few traveled south anymore. The middle of the U.R., at one time, had been Texas, Arizona, New Mexico Oklahoma and Nevada. It had become a wasteland, good for little but collecting dust, solar power and hiding from the law. Radiant energy plants that generated power for much of the Southwest dotted the horizon but little else occupied the space.

Which generated another question.

Why were there three gliders behind them? Nathanial eyed the mirror. “Don’t look now but we’ve picked up some friends.”

Paxton tightened her hold. “How many?”

“Three.” Nate glanced into the mirror again. They were closing in. In the last few seconds they’d gained a hundred yards. “We’re going to have to get off the highway and try to lose them in the desert. Hold on.” He cranked hard to the left and swung the back end of the glider around. They shot down the embankment and across a rock covered field. Paxton twisted behind him.

“You might want to go faster. They’re following.”

“You might want to grab hold of my belt.” Nate accelerated, leaving a sand tsunami rolling behind them and billowing into a thick cloud. “Hold on tight,” he yelled and ducked down close to the bars. Paxton tightened her hold and pressed her body against his shoulders.

He flipped a switch and pressed a button, igniting the glider’s boosters. They rocketed forward and the world blurred by. He’d half a charge and the last place he wanted to run out of energy would be in this wasteland. Using the boosters would drain their power. They’d have to lose them quick and find a place to rest in the shade while the glider recharged.

He glanced in the mirror to see they still pursued. He’d been crazy to leave the road. The people behind him were crazier to follow. How far would they go before they gave them up for buzzard bait? Something told him they weren’t the giving up type and he might have to change his tactics.

“They’re still gaining,” Paxton yelled.

“Where the hell did they get boosted rides? There’s no other way to catch this glider.”

“Same place you did.” Paxton’s voice fought against the roaring air and engine.

“I installed the system myself. Since reapers don’t use gliders, my guess is whoever’s behind us can’t teleport and they’re not from the DSLE.”

“Then who the hell are they?” Paxton said.

“Good question. They get any closer and you can ask them.” Nate studied the area ahead. Remnants of the King ranch, a spread that once covered more acreage than any other ranch in Texas. Now it was barren, dried up in the great drought of 2021, and a forgotten scar on Earth’s surface. Dead, desolate and unlivable--life, long since moved on to greener pastures.

A windmill’s skeletal frame stood against the turquoise sky. Its tin pinwheel spun and squawked above a dusty tank and extinct water source. Ahead a broken barbwire fence that once kept enormous herds of Herefords from wandering, now lay strung across the desert like broken string. Only the old wooden posts stood sentinel and they did little to keep anything in or out.

“I have an idea. Brace yourself. This might get rough.”

From frozen city streets to scorching wastelands, the weather can bring so much to a story. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed the weather.

D. L.

1 comment:

Joann said...

NICE! Slipping into each of those scenes was so easy because of what you 'showed' me. *grin*