Weather Thesaurus Entry: Forest Fire

WEATHER and PHENOMENA are important elements 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).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: Forest fires can span a hundred feet or hundreds of miles. Thick, sooty columns of charcoal grey blot out the sky, and orange flames lick tall trees, engulf grassy fields and chew though dry undergrowth. At ground level, the air is clotted with smoke and ash and from above, flames paint a ragged line, decimating wooded areas. Animals flee before it, and little survives within it. 

Smell: Soot, ash, smoke, pitch, burning wood (cedar, poplar, oak, pine)

Taste: Grit, acrid ash, smoke that creates a build up of charcoal-like gunk in the mouth and lungs

Touch: Painful heat that will sear and blister skin, burn exposed flesh and char sensitive lung tissue with every breath if close. Ash falls like snow, and sparks fly, white hot stings wherever they land

Sound: The crackle of burning wood, the roar and snap of the flame, and the crash of timbers collapsing as flame engulfs everything

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: A forest fire can create a sudden and devastating situation that heightens anxiety levels and pits characters in a fight for their lives. Fire leaves no prisoners--it burns, eradicates, kills. In the backdrop of such an event, all desires, conflicts and goals are forgotten as people train their energy on the only thing that matters--survival. 

Symbolism: A heavenly Scourge to wash the spirit clean through fire; Man vs Nature, an impossible foe; death

Possible Cliches: ?

OTHER: Forest Fires can happen anywhere at any time, but most occur during the dry summer months. Forest fire can be a product of man, or nature...however statistically most are caused by lightning strikes.

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.

17 comments:

Clarissa Draper said...

This has been something happening a lot lately and so I can see people using it in their books. Thanks for the resource.

Traci Kenworth said...

Something for me to consider in the setting/s I work with. A lot can change in that moment--and in the aftermath. Great post!!

Eve S Nicholson said...

I especially appreciate the note at the top about how the weather should not be used as a window into a character. Wow, I hadn't thought of it as heavy handed, but I will be cautious of my weather choices from now on. I don't want to beat my readers over the head.

Matthew MacNish said...

Forest Fires are the only phenomena in this series that I can think of that have stimuli for all five sense to observe.

That kind of makes them cool, though not in real life, of course.

Kristen said...

They're so awful, but forest fires also give the forest a new, clean start, when caused by nature. Great profile!

SP Sipal said...

Yes, great resource, as always. I also like what Kristen said about the cleansing of a fire. One cliche might be the link to passion?

Loree Huebner said...

The elements around us are so important to a scene.

Great post. Thanks for laying it out.

Heather said...

You've given me an idea! I love reading your posts because that happens nearly every time! You're amazing. 'Nough said.

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss angela! wow! another cool weather post. i save all of them caue for sure i learned from you how it could make a story lots better.
...hugs from lenny

Carrie Butler said...

Very timely, Angela! Another fantastic weather entry. :)

Becca Puglisi said...

Awesome pic. Great job, Ange!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Weather can create emotional conflict and add a lot. Thanks for this useful post.

The Golden Eagle said...

A forest fire . . . interesting! I could see one as the opening scene of a story.

Angela Ackerman said...

Great point Kristen, and I agree---there is a necessary cleansing and regrowth cycle with forest fires. ;)

SP< I totally agree on that cliche for Fire itself, but for forest fire specifically I don't think the connection is used enough to present as a possible situation for overuse. I don't come across a lot of Forest Fire in books, which is surprising as it's such a powerful force and has that 'nature AND Man' origin, something that few other weather scenarios have!

Thanks everyone for the comments! You all rock!!

Angela

Laura Pauling said...

Fire is powerful has a symbol, metaphor, and theme to a story if done right. I love fire in stories. Great post!

Angela said...

love your weather related posts!!!

Max said...

I've actually hiked in the aftermath of a large forest fire (the Pagami Creek fire which recently ravaged Northern Minnesota and made air dangerous to breathe as far south as Chicago). When everything's burned, it all just looks... sinister. Apparently, fir trees, when burned, are reduced to a central stalk and sharp spikes where the branches used to be. They look like you could murder someone with one.

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