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Old 10-15-2013, 04:17 PM   #1
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It was a dark and stormy night

I recently read a column by Robert Fulford (http://arts.nationalpost.com/2013/08...-opening-lines) where he discussed memorable opening lines.

Fulford mentioned Elmore Leonard's 1st rule ("Never open a book with Weather"),and gave counter-examples where using weather descriptions were an effective opening.

Surprising, he didn't cite one of the most effective uses of weather to set the tone of a novel, at the beginning of Dicken's Bleak House:
Chapter 1 — In Chancery
LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Definitely one of the great English novels. Can anyone recommend other novels (besides Perfect Storm ) where weather makes a significant contribution to the atmosphere of the novel?
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Old 10-15-2013, 04:41 PM   #2
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Fulford mentioned Elmore Leonard's 1st rule ("Never open a book with Weather"),and gave counter-examples where using weather descriptions were an effective opening.
I couldn't resist when I saw your mention of Elmore Leonard. I can't stand his advice, though he gives it well . Nor his writing, to tell the truth.

"It was a dark and stormy night" was the opening to Zanoni, wasn't it? Anyway, I'm sure it was Bulwer-Lytton . It's a cliche now, but only because it was so successful at the time.

On to your challenge: Georges Simenon generally opened his Inspector Maigret novels with a description of the weather and I always thought it was a successful trick for setting the mood.
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Old 10-15-2013, 06:55 PM   #3
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I couldn't resist when I saw your mention of Elmore Leonard. I can't stand his advice, though he gives it well . Nor his writing, to tell the truth.

"It was a dark and stormy night" was the opening to Zanoni, wasn't it? Anyway, I'm sure it was Bulwer-Lytton . It's a cliche now, but only because it was so successful at the time.

On to your challenge: Georges Simenon generally opened his Inspector Maigret novels with a description of the weather and I always thought it was a successful trick for setting the mood.
It was Bulwer-Lytton (Paul Clifford).

It's been decades since I read a Maigret. Thanks very much for the reminder; I'll revisit a few Maigrets. I did read Simenon's Dirty Snow earlier this year. You're right; the novel is set in winter and Simenon uses that very well in the book.
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Old 10-16-2013, 06:39 AM   #4
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My favourite by far would be the opening of Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities, in which he ironises opening with the weather:

Quote:
A barometric low hung over the Atlantic. It moved eastward toward a high-pressure area over Russia without as yet showing any inclination to bypass this high in a northerly direction. The isotherms and isotheres were functioning as they should. The air temperature was appropriate relative to the annual mean temperature and to the aperiodic monthly fluctuations of the temperature. The rising and setting of the sun, the moon, the phases of the moon, of Venus, of the rings of Saturn, and many other significant phenomena were all in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The water vapor in the air was at its maximal state of tension, while the humidity was minimal. In a word that characterizes the facts fairly accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: It was a fine day in August 1913.
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Old 10-16-2013, 09:24 AM   #5
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My favourite by far would be the opening of Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities, in which he ironises opening with the weather:
Thanks. It looks very interesting (and timely for the WW1 centenary); I have added it to my TBR.
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Old 10-16-2013, 09:03 PM   #6
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The opening paragraph of Lee Child's first Jack Reacher novel "Killing Floor":

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I WAS ARRESTED IN ENO’S DINER. AT TWELVE O’CLOCK. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.
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Old 10-17-2013, 03:59 AM   #7
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When Elmore Leonard puts down his rule about the weather, he's not really talking about all books in all circumstances, but a general rule. Sometimes, though, the weather IS the story, or at least the setting, and so it's a good idea to start with it: look at Carl Hiassen's Stormy Weather (hell, it's even in the title!).

And if your story is set north of the Arctic circle, or at the south pole, don't tell me you can't start with the weather...

It all depends on the novel itself. Weather can unnecessarily complicate a story and in many novels can be left out altogether. Look at Ian Fleming's James Bond books and see if you can find any weather at all. Not even in London.

I guess some writers fall back on the weather to set the scene at the beginning simply because they can't come up with something better on Page One. In which case, Leonard is right on.
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Old 10-17-2013, 06:35 AM   #8
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Here's a less abbreviated version of the rule.

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1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
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Old 10-17-2013, 11:49 AM   #9
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I can't quote any specific instances off the top of my head, but some of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels start with a description of the weather. But that's because the weather is often a central theme. The story is often about a police investigation that proceeds against a background of swelteringly hot weather, or incessant rain, or freezing cold, or something similar.

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Old 10-17-2013, 12:51 PM   #10
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I can't quote any specific instances off the top of my head, but some of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels start with a description of the weather. But that's because the weather is often a central theme. The story is often about a police investigation that proceeds against a background of swelteringly hot weather, or incessant rain, or freezing cold, or something similar.

Mike
Thanks. It's been decades since I read an 87th Precinct novel. I think the last one I read was Fuzz or Shotgun. Probably time to dig them out for a re-read.
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Old 10-17-2013, 04:25 PM   #11
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The opening paragraph of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, which has just won the Man Booker Prize, mentions the weather:
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The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dress — frock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twill — they might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them; indeed, the studied isolation of each man as he pored over his paper, or leaned forward to tap his ashes into the grate, or placed the splay of his hand upon the baize to take his shot at billiards, conspired to form the very type of bodily silence that occurs, late in the evening, on a public railway — deadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain.
Apparently the weather mention didn't have any negative influence on the judges.
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Old 10-17-2013, 06:41 PM   #12
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Thanks. It looks interesting - onto the TBR

Funny, I was reading an article in the paper today about the awards bash. Apparently, Ben Okri (previously the youngest recipient - 1991, The Famished Road) mentioned to Catton's partner that "this [the award] could be transformative in a very corrosive way"
(http://arts.nationalpost.com/2013/10...e-booker-prize)
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Old 10-17-2013, 09:32 PM   #13
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I read a book set in Minnesota in the winter. Every chapter had a heading like "6:00 pm, 2 degrees" "1:00 am, -25 degrees" etc. Yeah, I get it, it's really cold in Minneapolis in the winter. I don't really need an hour-by-hour temperature report at the beginning of each chapter.
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Old 10-18-2013, 02:48 AM   #14
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Ben Okri could be right. The only other New Zealand winner, Keri Hulme with The Bone People in 1985 hasn't had another novel published since then. Whether that's due to the prize or not I don't know, but it probably does create some expectations which can be difficult to fulfill.
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Old 10-22-2013, 01:27 PM   #15
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It was a dark and stormy night is also the opening line in Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 kids' classic A Wrinkle in Time.
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