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Rain and Literature: How Bad Weather Can Make or Break a Story

My writing "mission" here is twofold: to expose my articles to a wider audience and to consolidate my knowledge on the subject.

How Bad Weather Can Make or Break a Story

How Bad Weather Can Make or Break a Story

In a piece of artistic production (same goes for literature here), nothing is ever random, even weather. To put it otherwise, there has to be some symbolic value attached to the fact that "It was a dark and stormy night."

Singing in the Rain

Rain and Literature

Why do it? This is the main question that pops up when talking about bad weather in literature. Why would somebody want to have heavy rains, thunder and lightning, bone-chilling winds, and all the other disastrous natural phenomena in a story?

One obvious answer would be: every story needs some kind of setting. However, when it comes to weather and literature, it is not just weather. On a more symbolic level, it's never just rain. Without trying to generalize, there has to be something more in a literature piece when the weather is sunny, warm, cold, etc. This naturally has to do with creating the atmosphere. I am pretty sure that Singing in the Rain would not have been that successful if it didn't . . . well, rain.

Noah and His Ark

Now that you know everything that is to it when talking about rain and literature, I think it is important to talk more about the why.

So when it comes to bad weather in literature, water is the keyword here. As I am sure you have noticed, they don't call Earth the Blue Planet for nothing (nice wordplay there, if I can say so myself). As time goes by, water bites land away, which makes the flood one of humanity's greatest fears. On the other hand, there are other stories where man reclaims land from the sea (check the Netherlands, for example).

Coming back to the rain and literature discussion, the most famous story that talks about a catastrophic flood is Noah's. There is no need to get into details here: God gets angry, sends down massive rains, Noah builds his ark, saves animals, sends out the dove, the rainbow appears, and everything gets back to normal. Doing a little bit of interpretative work on the biblical story, it is clear here that God does not want us to go extinct, no matter how angry he gets. Combining that with our fear of drowning, the happy ending in Noah's story comes as a great relief.

This is but one example of many when it comes to bad weather in literature. As you can see, exploiting one of the fundamental fears of men makes an incredibly good story. This is what made Noah, his ark, and even the quest for finding it in the "real world" so vivid.

Since we are still in prehistoric times, thunderstorms must have been pretty scary for your average caveman. Even now, young children are getting scared of those loud noises. That way, bad weather and literature go hand in hand when it comes to creating the atmosphere.

The calm and the storm in one picture: I simply like this picture because you get to see the dual nature of rain.

The calm and the storm in one picture: I simply like this picture because you get to see the dual nature of rain.

Rain as a Plot Device

Not only does rain help create the atmosphere, it also sets up the plot. In that sense, rain and literature go hand in hand. Would Noah still build the ark if it wasn't for the flood? Most likely not.

But since the Bible is not the only place to turn to when it comes to bad weather and literature, let us take a more personal example:

"As I was biking towards some place in Amsterdam, it started raining heavily all of the sudden. In fact, it was raining so hard that I had to take shelter somewhere. After a couple of minutes, another guy came and he was soaking wet. Since we did not have any place to go, and since the rain didn't seem to stop, we started talking to one another. What we talked is less important from what I am trying to show here. We started talking to each other about our lives and other problems."

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As it is noticeable, rain forced us into these circumstances.

Simba Becomes King During a Storm

Other Functions

In the end, what is rain good for? So far we have seen that:

  • It helps create the stage.
  • It has a dark side to it—fear of getting drowned.
  • It is used as a device to advance the plot of a story.

Apart from these, let us further explore the symbolic nature of rain. For instance, rain helps to purify the air. Or, on the other hand, it can create a lot of mud and dirt. Departing from the previous two points, it is safe to assume the following:

  • A character can cleanse himself by walking or standing in the rain.
  • Contrarily, the character can fall in the mud and get dirty.

The restorative nature of rain is also strongly connected with the previous points. For example, in the first part of The Lion King, when Simba defeats Scar, rain washes down the fire and signals the birth of the new king. Coming back once more to Noah and his ark, the role of water is seen here as twofold: for once, it can destroy the world, but recreate it at the same time.

Characters in the mud; Rain acts as a catharsis.

Characters in the mud; Rain acts as a catharsis.

Spring rains make the world blossom again. Especially in May. But what happens when T.S. Eliot, in his well-known poem The Wasteland begins with "April is the cruelest month"?

Let us break it down into small points. Basically, what Eliot is doing here is playing with our expectations of spring, rain, and so on. Without going into much detail, The Wasteland is a poem about infertility, so that explains why April is, indeed, the cruelest month. Again, by looking at the title, The Wasteland is a great example of fertile earth. Perhaps there is no better example of an ironic play of rain and literature.

What You Need to Know

We are talking literature here, so on a symbolic level, rain is never just rain.

  • Rain creates the proper setting for a story.
  • Spices up the atmosphere.
  • It can be capable of both destruction and rejuvenation.
  • It can be used as an ironic device (see T.S. Eliot).
  • Each storm is followed by a rainbow.

Literature and Rainbows

After all this talk about doom, gloom, and rain, one should be aware that after each rain, a rainbow pops out.

The rainbow is the aftermath of a thunderstorm. Although we scientifically can demonstrate how a rainbow occurs, in literature, things are a bit different. Rainbows signify the ultimate peace between nature and man. Remember Noah? He also saw a rainbow when he found land. Ultimately, rainbows and storms go hand in hand.


Walter Dark (author) from Amsterdam on March 24, 2015:

Hey boomclap, thanks for getting in touch. There are small capsules on the right hand side of the screen where everything is condensed. Cheers!

boomclap on March 08, 2015:

tooo much words to read could someone please explain it to me

Vivian Sudhir from Madurai, India on June 22, 2014:

Indeed The Touch Typist, it is difficult to think of a world without rain. It is such a blessing to all of us. Good article.

Walter Dark (author) from Amsterdam on January 08, 2014:


thanks a lot for your encouragement, and I will be posting some more articles shortly. It really helps me.

Overall, there are many more things to be said about weather and literature in general (more precisely bad weather is a prominent factor), but these are the main things. As for the example, they do nothing more than to prove my point and maybe open your eyes about things.

To end, I would like you to help me with a matter of choice: what should I be writing about next?

So far, I have three options:

- Seasons in literature

- Christ-figures in literature

- Literature and politics

Make my task easier and take your pick!

Kind regards.

Laura L Scotty from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on January 08, 2014:

The symbolism behind rain that you pointed out in this article is very thought provoking. I was enthralled by the stories you used to get your point across and set the tone of this piece. I look forward to more works from you.

Walter Dark (author) from Amsterdam on January 07, 2014:

Kj force,

Your connection between weather in literature and the overall tone of the piece is correct. Although it might seem that a work of art is random, everything is in its right place.

Thank you for your compliments, and feel free to share with others! :)


kjforce from Florida on January 07, 2014:

The Touch Typist...Very interesting article, well written.

I never really gave thought to the subject, but now that you mention it..Weather..whether ( no pun intended ) rain,sun,deason,cold,hot, bad or good...triggers a memory emotion. We relate memories with weather...good or bad.

In many instances it can determine whether a write is good or bad, depending on our state of mind, while doing the write.

Thanks for the thought provoking hub...have a great day !

Walter Dark (author) from Amsterdam on January 07, 2014:

Dear Eiddwen,

Thank you a lot for your kind words. Be sure to stay tuned! I have many more on the way.


Eiddwen from Wales on January 07, 2014:

So very interesting and I now look forward to so many more by you.


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