Monday, July 21, 2008


The Short Mystery Fiction Society is discussing the "rules" of opening scenes. Among the "rules"--some of which are cribbed from Elmore Leonard--is "don't open with a description of the weather." There's debate on how valid these rules really are, with members pointing to this story or that as prime examples of great stories that begin with a description of the weather or that break other "rules."

I suspect the dilemma isn't the "rules." Here's what I posted:

I doubt that taking a few sentences to set up the atmosphere of a story is frowned on in today's market. I think what's frowned on is wasting multiple paragraphs describing weather that is unimportant, or a character's actions upon rising from bed, or background details that delay the start of the story.

There's a big difference between:

At 1:22 a.m., almost four hours into a thunderstorm that rumbled up the mountain and enveloped the lodge without warning, we lost power. At 1:23 a.m. someone pressed the muzzle of a .357 between the innkeeper's eyes and squeezed the trigger. None of the other guests recognized the sound, but I did. I woke immediately.


We all stood at the window and watched the storm race up the mountain. The lightning flashed across the evening sky like wayward fireworks and soon rain drops fat as marbles rattled the windows. The dark clouds made the night seem even darker and cast an ominous feeling of dread over all of the lodge's guests. I'd been in worse storms, I suppose, but this one was something more. It felt bigger, somehow, because the lodge was surrounded by pine forest and the nearest neighbor was ten miles down the mountain. The other guests slowly peeled away from the window. Some went to bed, others went to sit by the fireplace. By midnight, though, everyone else had turned in. I decided I might as well join them. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and changed into the new pajamas my wife had given me just before we'd left home. Then I slipped into bed beside her and watched the storm until I finally fell asleep sometime later.

A familiar sound woke me and it wasn't thunder. It was a gunshot, a gunshot that must have sounded just like thunder to the lodge's other guests....blah, blah, blah.

Both examples begin with weather, but the first example makes the weather a vital part of the scene. The second example makes the weather more of a space filler that delays the start of the story.

1 comment:

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I am not posting much on there these days because I feel unwelcome. Here I will say that I would argue the second scene is more in the cozy style of writing. Therefore, it is not weaker or a space filler, but, instead, just a different way of story telling than the first.