By Margaret Lucke
"Never open a book with weather."
-- Elmore Leonard
I know what Elmore Leonard is driving at here -- he's telling to cut to the chase at the beginning of our story, to involve our readers right away with the characters and what they are doing.
But as a reader, I like weather. I want to be immersed in the experience the characters are going through. If they are dashing through a summer storm in pursuit of a killer, I want to hear the thunder crack and feel the pelting raindrops. If they are hiking through a spring meadow to the cabin where they will find the body of the missing man, I want to smell the damp earth and feel the touch of a warm breeze on my brow.
If you can weave a bit of weather into the action and put me in the scene, I'm all for it.
"A story is in its setting because it could be nowhere else."
-- Mystery author Susan Dunlap
The setting of a story is more than a backdrop against which the action takes places. In the best stories, the setting is not just a physical landscape but also an emotional one, and it is an influential force in how the story unfolds. The setting provides resources and obstacles for the characters, and it makes an impact on their choices and behaviors.
The time when a book happens is a part of its setting. Victorian-era San Francisco is a different place from today's city. Or, to use my novel Snow Angel, which comes out later this year, as a case in point, the Sierra Nevada in July is not the same as the Sierra Nevada in January. My book is a winter's tale -- a search for a missing child takes my protagonist Jess Randolph from the gray, rainy Bay Area into the whiter, wilder reaches of the Sierra where the snow and bitter cold provide unanticipated perils and adventures.
Winter handed me much of the story. Summer could have given me a good story too, but it would have been a different book.
Perhaps Susan Dunlap's quote could be modified: "A story is in its season because it could be at no time else."
"To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."
-- Ecclesiastes 3:1
Early in the catalog that follows this verse and enumerates the things for which there is a time, Ecclesiastes includes "a time to kill," but is silent about exactly when that time is. I don't know if anyone has ever tallied which season is the most popular time in which to set a mystery novel (though I'm almost willing to bet that someone, somewhere, has done so), nor can I guess what the result would be.
But I do know that I will enjoy the book more if I know what season it is and what sort of weather the characters are enjoying -- or having to endure.
Please tell me if it's raining.