Rick’s blog post on the pleasures and pains of summer got me thinking about the weather where I live. When people find out I live in L.A., they usually say: “There’s such great weather there!” Yes the weather is lovely here, especially in the summer. As someone from Texas, summer to me means apocalyptic heat, the kind where you change clothes multiple times a day and you generally only move from one air-conditioned place to another.
And yet here in southern California, the weather is always nice, all the time. When everyone else was complaining about the polar vertex this past winter, I was still sending my kids to school in shorts. I used to be perplexed by those J. Crew ads where women were running around the beach in shorts and sweaters. I mean, where in God’s name would a person want to wear a sweater with shorts? Here in L.A., sweater + shorts = perfectly reasonable attire. When we first moved to California, the weather was such a marvel. It’s chilly at night! It’s chilly in the mornings! The kids can play outside all day!
But humans can’t (or don’t) live in a state of wonder. Complacency often takes over. I no longer wake up every day and feel thankful that I can take my dog for a walk at any time of day and not risk heatstroke. Now I’m just as apt to complain when it’s 90—ugh, why is it so hot today? Or 50 degrees—it’s freezing! When you live somewhere where the weather is always nice, how do you know to appreciate it? That is, what’s your point of comparison when all four seasons essentially feel the same? How do you know to appreciate a 70 degree summer day when you also have 70 degree winter days? If it never rains, how do you know to love a sunny day?
And what exactly does this have to do with writing? One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer is that I grow too attached to my characters, and I don’t want to hurt them. I like to put my characters in emotionally sticky situations and promptly “rescue” them. In other words, I like my characters to live in sunny southern California where it never rains and the weather is always beautiful. Sure, there might be the occasional hot day or the brief cold spell, but in general, everything works out just fine. And this kind of stasis does not make for good storytelling.
Earlier this summer we took a two-week trip to Texas, and I suddenly remembered how much I like seasons, specifically changing seasons. Yes, it was hot in Texas, and my kids were surprised they didn’t need sweatshirts at night. But I also remembered how it felt when summer finally ends and fall arrives, how relief from the oppressive heat of summer is an almost visceral pleasure. Those ups and downs, the highs and lows of the thermometer remind you of something important: life, and by extension fiction, isn’t static. Your characters can’t hover around the same temperature for an entire story or novel. Change and tension are intertwined. Your characters need to experience life’s ups and downs too. If they never leave their comfort zone, how can you expect them to grow and change?