Tension, tension, tension. That’s what we want in our work to move the story forward and keep the reader’s interest. My cozy mysteries are set in unusual areas of the country, one in Upstate New York, the other in rural Florida. I like to feature these setting in my mysteries to create the atmosphere for the story, but I think I would be missing an opportunity if I didn’t use the extremes of weather common in both these areas in another way: as a vehicle to develop tension.
For the over 40 years I’ve lived in Upstate New York, I’ve seen my share of dramatic weather: snowstorms, thunderstorms, drought and flooding due to storms stalled over the region. In my microbrewing series, I created danger for my protagonist as she is pursued by one of the bad guys and tries to find a path of escape in a tunnel. But the lights down there have gone out and the tunnel is flooded. She has no choice but to step into that black water, feel her way down it and hope there’s safety on the other side. Of course, there isn’t—just more bad guys.
In Murder Is Academic, a tornado bears down on my protagonist and her lover. While they find refuge in a building dug into a hillside, so too does the man pursuing them. My protagonist escapes to the lake and a canoe only to be followed by her pursuer. She dumps him into the lake, but is left cold and shivering on the shore. We are led to think: is her pursuer really dead, drowned in the lake? Will she be able to find her way off the lake to safety before hypothermia sets in? See how weather creates a situation the writer can take advantage of?
Not only can the madness of weather create tension, but it also can be the basis for romance. No one wants to face a fire alone, do they? My protagonist in Dumpster Dying might have preferred another partner other than the man with whom she shared the wild fire that threatened her retirement community, but fleeing the flames left them stranded on the rim of a canal with no way out but into alligator infested waters or back into the flames behind them. The sharing of danger almost results in a kiss.
And then there are hurricanes accompanied by tornados. There’s nothing like avoiding debris to ramp up the tension and the romance for my protagonist in Grilled, Chilled and Killed, but the dash for the safety leaves my protagonist cold, wet and willing to shower with the hunky detective who’s been after her for a while. Sharing bath gel can be very sexy!
Eve Appel in the Eve Appel mysteries has had ample opportunity to do battle with storms in rural Florida. I like to have her fleeing bad weather in the company of one Sammy Egret, a darkly handsome Miccosukee Indian. There’s something between these two even though she already has a boyfriend. The impulses she might be able to resist when the sun is shining, may not be so easily ignored when a gal is gulping down a swamp of water. Eve and Sammy find themselves dumped out in the swamp in a storm and must survive the rain and howling winds as well as find their way back to civilization. There’s body heat between them to help as well as Sammy’s keen knowledge of the swamp. There’s also a whole lot of sexual tension between the two that neither of them wants to admit. That storm created the tension of a romantic triangle that begs to be resolved.
In the manuscript I am now working on, my protagonist decides to take part in a battle re-enactment, allocation where I decided to place my dead body, but I didn’t want to make it that simple for her. Instead I dumped two days of unending rain on the re-enactment site, and then had my protagonist stumble into the mud and onto the body. I kept her muddy through a questioning at the police station, gambling at the local casino and dinner out. It’s fun to play with scenarios like this where the writer can use weather to create difficulty for the protagonist and keep that problem doing for important scenes containing clues to the murder.
There’s an eclipse coming up Sunday. Think of what that means: a drop in temperature, darkness, the possibility of doing eye damage. I’ll bet you can think of a number of ways to make that work in a murder mystery.
How have you successfully used the weather to make your writing exciting?