Historic National Weather Service Collection/NOAA
Feb. 2, 2005
An Alien Forecast
When writing about alien life in a science fiction story, it's important to imagine the kind of place where that life might belong. It's all part of "world building." The more believable and interesting the world, the better the story.
A recent poll found that after "how are you?" the most common question asked by people around the world is "how's the weather?" Yet many new writers neglect weather when they build a world for a science fiction story. (We'll ignore the tendency to have a "dark and stormy night" somewhere, usually near the beginning.)
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
National Park Service
We care about weather because it says a great deal about a place, what could live there, and what it might be like to live there. Think about the plants you might expect to see on Earth, or how house construction varies from the tropics to the Arctic. So, weather and climate (the weather pattern over a year or longer) is something that should be considered by anyone building a world for a story. Try it for yourself.
Challenge: Weather Change
Here is part of a science fiction story that refers to the weather.
The sign was rain-smeared and had never been overly straight. P'tr wit 'Whix spared one eye to read it as he passed, then chuckled to himself: "Fabulous Embassy Row? Tours daily?" Then again, he thought, why not? After all, Embassy Row was about the only thing worth touring on Auord.
The necessities of a shared government meant inter-species embassies on every Trade Pact world, no matter how insignificant the worldor the species. And convenience clustered the embassies together, hence Embassy Row, a street along which building styles ranged from the unlikely fluted domes of the Skenkran, barely anchored to the ground, to the lumps of plas-coated imported mud favored by ambassadors from Ret 7.
Tonight, however, the tour cars sat as empty as the street itself. The first rains of the season had arrived early, setting up a cheerful cacophony from the chimes Auordians strung from every lamppost and door, whether allowed to or not. But a chill wind had slipped in with the rain, and the benefits of seeing and being seen were apparently not enough for most to brave the cold dampness.
Which was a shame, 'Whix thought. He himself was not fond of uncontrolled water, yet he appreciated that other beings would find the effect quite attractive. Reflected lights sparkled over the buildings and their grounds, lifting each from the dark. Along the avenue itself, the lamps lining the walkways on either side cast circles of brightness that danced across the wet pavement, transforming its surface into a mosaic of gems.
'Whix's momentary fancy quickly turned to a muted but shrill curse in his native tongue, as his three-clawed foot landed with a splash in one of those light-begemmed puddles.
It would have to rain on his shift, not his partner's. It had to be 'Whix out in the drizzle, feeling water flattening the feathers of his crest; 'Whix the one with icy drops sliding under the upraised collar of his uniform, soaking the feathers of his back.
Muscles twitched maddeningly in a reflex, and 'Whix shuddered with the effort not to shake out the moisture. He knew from experience his magnificent crest would only stick out wildly in all directions, like a chick's, until the rain matted it against his head again.
Excerpted with permission from A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julie E. Czerneda. Copyright © 1997 by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books.
Change the weather in this scene to one of the examples shown here: snowstorm, fog, or very hot and dry. Decide for yourself if you want it to be night or day. You will need to change certain words and phrases to show the weather. Add anything you wish, so long as the character, 'Whix, is patrolling Embassy Row.
Fog at Point of Rocks, Maryland.
Janet Ward, NOAA HPCC/Historic NWS Collection
Hints: Consider what you know about weather in different places on Earth. Think about how the weather might affect how the character moves, what he encounters, what he feels. What about protective clothing? How might the weather affect technology such as tour cars, signs, and even sidewalks? Would there be anything about the buildings that would be different?
When you are finished, compare your new scene to the one above. Is it more interesting? Funnier or more sinister? If you like, do this again with another kind of weather. It can be amazing what happens to a story when the weather changes.
If you wish, send your new scene to us at email@example.com. You may be eligible for a prize. Please include your first name, age, city or town, and state. If you are under 13 years old, get your parent's permission to write to us.
This week's recommended scifi books
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