Weather Thesaurus Entry: Snow

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).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: 

Flakes can range from small bits of ice to large lacy pieces that float at a slower speed. Depending on the wind direction and strength, snow can fall on an angle, slight to sharp, or even appear to fly sideways in extreme winter blows or blizzards. If flakes drift straight down, there is an absence of wind current. A stronger wind will often tear flakes apart on the way, making the sky seem filled with snow crystals. Sunlight can appear muted during a snowfall as the sky is often packed with dense grey cloud. Within minutes to hours, a layer of snow will cover anything out in the open, frosting windows, weighing down tree branches and causing drifts to form against houses, cars and curbs. Snow has a smooth, clean look, and under sunlight or moonlight the crystalline nature will glitter.

Smell:

Snow has a crisp, ozone-like tang to it. 

Taste:

Most snow simply tastes like water, but it may carry a slightly bitter taste if in an urban area. However, often the taste is dulled due to the numbing of taste buds from the cold.  

Touch:

Snow varies from soft lacy flakes that melt the moment they touch exposed flesh to hard pellets that can sting chapped, wind-dried skin. Snow is extremely cold, and so in any quantity can numb and eventually sting. Exposure to low temperatures and direct contact can result in permanent frostbite damage. For more information on how the body reacts to freezing elements, go here.

Sound: 

Snowfall is usually very quiet with the exception of wind being present, or if the snow is in pellet form. With our busy lives, if the conditions are right and a person were to stop and listen, the absence of sound seems remarkable. However, if wind is present it may howl, tree branches will shake and pellets make a small pinging noise on impact with hard targets. If a person is outside during a snowstorm, they will also hear the rustling of their clothing and the sound of their footsteps compacting down into newly fallen snow. As it takes more energy to move in snow conditions, breathing accelerates and so the sound of breathing increases as well.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: snowfall can lighten the mood and bring back childhood memories and pleasant experiences of playing in the snow and being outdoors on a cool, crisp day. Snow is widely viewed as a beautiful act of nature, and the slow, silent drift of flakes will often reach into a person and make them stop and take notice. It provides an escape for a moment or two, and encourages the watcher to take it in. However, context is key. A man late for work who has to scrape snow off his car is not going to view snow in a light-hearted manner. A teen who is stuck with the chore of shoveling the driveway will not be happy to wake up to a white landscape. Always consider the POV character's attitudes, and filter accordingly.

Symbolism: purity, renewal, frigidity, sleep, hibernation, death, burying emotion, new beginnings, isolation

Possible Cliches: comparing snow to glittery objects (glitter, diamonds, sequins, jewels, etc), or likening it to frosting or sugar.

OTHER: Snow will only occur in certain climates and will melt at zero degrees. In some warmer climates where snow is not generally present, one can sometimes still find it at high elevations (mountain ranges, etc). If the temperature is warmer rather than cooler (above the freezing mark) than snowfall will be heavier and wetter.

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. 

13 comments:

JeffO said...

A rather appropriate entry, given that we just had about two inches of snow fall during the night. It's been unusually snow-free so far this year for these parts.

I'd like to add one thing: depending on where you are, and air/temperature conditions, snow may be wet and heavy, or light and almost fluffy. This morning's snow was very wet. The 2" I had to clear off the car was sticky and heavier than normal. Once winter really gets going where I live, you can pick up 8 or 10 inches on a shovel with comparatively little effort, or even use a broom to push it away with relative ease. Those wet snowflakes often fall almost like rain drops.

Angela Ackerman said...

Excellent add, Jeff--I totally forgot about the varying density of snowfall, and you're absolutely right! Thanks for chiming in. :)

Loree Huebner said...

I love the powdery snow. When it comes down, it's slow and gentle - just like you're in a snow globe.

Great post.

Tina Moss said...

Weather can play an active part in the scene, but you are so right when you say it can be overdone. Avoiding cliches about snow sparkling, or cliches of anytime when discussing weather, is important. It'll take away from the mood rather than adding to it.

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss angela! hooray for snow!! ha ha. i like this post lots cause i got lots of weather and lots of snow in my wip. for sure this posts gonna make my story lots better. :)
...hugs from lenny

Heather said...

Context is the key indeed! You've given me some great things to think about where snow is concerned. Often it is only wonder or cold that writers associate it with. You've shown us there is so much more!

C.R. Evers said...

Yet another great list, and very wise words of caution as well.

Great job guys!

Mirka Breen said...

I heard snow referred to as ‘fluffy,’ but the real snow never fits this.
The visual and the tactile of snow are jarringly different. The first is almost powder sugar or frosting, the second cold and unfriendly…
Maybe I’ve been in California for too long.

Carrie Butler said...

Nooo...not snow! I'm not ready!

*grins* Okay, okay. I might be overreacting. Great post, as always!

Leslie Rose said...

I love the hush of a snowfall. Jerry Spinelli has an awesome snowing sequence in LOSER.

Ruby Claire said...

I love to feel snow during evening time.
It gives me please of early morning.


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Traci Kenworth said...

As I look out my window this morning I see this icky, white stuff. Lol. I will use this thesaurus for my story in the future, so I will no doubt return to this entry for clarification. Thanks!!

Becca Puglisi said...

This post is really helpful, since I live in south Florida and haven't seen snow in years. Yet my stories always have snow in them. Someone's over-compensating...

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