Weather Thesaurus Entry: Drought

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).



Drought: A period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently prolonged for the lack of water to cause serious imbalance in the affected area. --Glossary of Meteorology (1959)

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:
drooping/dying/yellowing plants, brown patchy grass, dry cracked ground with no grass at all, stunted crops, skinny/bony livestock, topsoil being blown away in the wind, increased dust and dirt in the air, dirt piling up in corners and crevices, dust coating windowsills, smoke from wildfires in the distance, heat waves rising off the concrete, dried-up lakes, rivers reduced to streams and trickles, lethargic people and animals

Smell:
overheated air, dirt

Taste:
dust in your throat, dry mouth

Touch:
dust coating your skin and clogging your nostrils, hot wind, winds laced with dirt and sand scraping your skin, sun beating down on you, thirst, irritated throat and nose from increased allergies, ground-heat seeping up through the soles of your shoes

Sound:
wind, dry twigs and branches clacking together

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Water is one of our most basic needs. When it stops appearing in the form of regular rainfall, and existing water slowly starts to disappear, desperation is spawned. People turn anxious as they wonder when it will rain again and if it will happen before the crops fail or grocery bills skyrocket or someone's future disintegrates. Because it is entirely out of our control, drought also can produce a sense of helplessness.

Symbolism: Need, desperation, survival of the fittest, barrenness, failure

Possible Cliches: 

  • the lion and the deer, out of desperation, drinking from the same water hole 
  • the arrival of long-awaited rain at a climactic point in the story
  • a lone tumbleweed blowing across the scene when the character is most vulnerable

OTHER
For most of us, drought is an inconvenience that drives temperatures upward, uglifies our pretty waterfront areas, and inflicts water restrictions upon us. But in certain areas and at certain times, it can be devastating, leading to long-term economic, social, and environmental problems. Check out this site for a detailed list of the effects of drought.

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.

16 comments:

tracikenworth said...

Oooh, good one!!

Matthew MacNish said...

Hah! I hadn't thought of it until you'd mentioned it, but that rolling tumbleweed would be a bit much at the wrong moment.

Well done, thanks Becca!

Kelly said...

Excellent entry!
Hard to think of a drought when it's been raining in the Midwest since March! :)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Sounds like my neck of the woods. We need rain so badly the trees whistle every time a dog walks down the street.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love the way you warn us of not mis-using weather. So true!! :-)

Susanne Drazic said...

Another great post. Definitely not thinking of drought around here. Seems like we have had rain almost daily these days.

The Golden Eagle said...

There's not much drought in this area, either--just lots of water.

But great post! :)

Talli Roland said...

Drought, hm. Hadn't thought of this one!

Kristen said...

Yes, I hadn't thought of that either. This is so unbelievably helpful.
Thanks!

Clarissa Draper said...

I'm going through a drought where I live and so I'm writing a lot of them in my stories. Great entry.

nutschell said...

What a great post! Sometimes I forget that jazzing up my setting a little could add more contrast and drama to the scene. :)such an informative post!
have a great memorial day weekend!
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Becca Puglisi said...

We're definitely in need of water in south Florida, though we got some welcome rain today. The drought conditions here are always a hot topic of weather conversation, but researching and writing this entry made me realize that we have nothing to complain about.

Matthew, I'm embarrassed to say that the tumbleweed cliche came right out of one of my current manuscripts. *blush*

Jeff King said...

Once again I loved the post… thx for taking the time to share it.

Karen Lange said...

Good stuff! I seem to say that a lot here...but it's true. Thanks, as always. You guys rocks. :)

Have a great weekend!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Drought. Hmmm. We don't have a drought here right now. Actually it's the complete opposite. :P

Julie Musil said...

Such authentic details, thanks so much. I think I need a long drink of water now. :D

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