Living, Breathing Snow Scenes
I can generally tell when someone has never driven, walked, stood in or experienced a real blizzard or lake squall (blizzard-like conditions over a specific area instead of a general storm) because they tell it wrong. Not just different... because what one fears, another one takes as a challenge, so the variants of character(s) are fine... but the storms themselves are uniquely similar. So are the effects. But how those effects affect an area can be so different based on terrain, setting, wind direction. And as a writer, as an American author, 50% of your readership could live in an area (like mine and Mary's) where snow is a reality for six or seven months/year. We can cite the October, 2018 blizzard that decimated farms and animals throughout the Midwest to April blizzards that keep people from Easter services and cover fertile fields with flood waters as the Mississippi basin drains 1/3 of the country. Those staggering numbers mean you need to get it right or lose readers. I remember a line from "A Town Like Alice"... "But he was an 'abo', and he was painting his place."
The hero was explaining why the aboriginal man got the painting uniquely right. So how do you correctly write something you've rarely or never experienced? We've got some great ideas for you today so you Don't Mess It Up... 'cause if you do? They'll boo ya! (Derek Jeter to President Bush 9/2001)
Here are a couple of shows that show actual winter:
The Last American Cowboy (Season 1, Episode 1)
Heartland Docs is also available from National Geographic on your Disney + app if you have that.
The harsh reality of a rugged snowstorm is life-threatening. It can also be funny. And poignant. Think of ALL the Hallmark movies you've watched where they get snowed in... roads blocked... gently falling snow. #notreal #Imserious #itsnotlikethat but... they generally have the BAD SNOW between the heroine and the airport, right???? :) That way bucolic innocence wins the day.
Here's a list of what to look for on videos and shows if you're inexperienced at writing winter storms.
1. Snow: This might seem obvious, but a thick-falling, moisture-heavy 31-degree snow is heavy and piles up quickly, making travel dangerous without a major wind attached. Conversely a frigid cold, tiny flake 10 degree storm with a 40 mph wind, makes white-outs and blizzard conditions (creating "no" or very low visibility) an immediate danger. Even if your folks aren't going out into the storm (sensible people, right?) what they see out their window affects your reader and sets the scene.
2. Wind: Wind and snow have clogged interstates, mountain roads, village streets, shut down cities and wreak havoc whenever they walk hand-in-hand. In cities, the immediate problem is congestion. A heavy snow needs to be moved. Millions of people need to stay put. Tens of thousands of cars clog the roads. Power lines fall, people are cold, options severely limited. And little apartments don't have much room for a pantry, do they?
Conversely in rural circumstances if there isn't a stock of food, being cut off from civilization, no power, no internet, no phone, no nothin' is a dire straits situation. (Mary's historical excerpt gives you that imminent feeling of danger. She threw in a fire for good measure.) :)
3. Slush: No one talks about slush, but slush on the roads can throw a car into a ditch or reel it into a field like my Welcome to Wishing Bridge opening chapter... Amazon lets you read the opening chapter here for free, and I'm not bragging when I say that this chapter kept an editor from going to the Manhattan fireworks show several years ago because in her words "I couldn't put it down..." The result was a bestselling book with over 600 reviews and a 4.6 rating... But it starts with a storm that brings the characters together... God and their history take care of the rest.
4. Ice: Ice is treacherous. I had a really good ice storm scene as a book opening for Love Inspired and it got axed a few years back (see? I get stuff rejected, too... and it's made me tougher. Stronger. And more aware of my individual audiences) The deadliness of ice, the lack of control, the furor and weight of an ice storm is probably best applied in small doses... :)
5. Visibility: Snow isn't rain. Driving rainstorms thin your vision field and can be awful.... That's another blog, though. Heavy snow can obliterate all of your senses except touch. It can deaden hearing, blind vision, mask smells and there is nothing to taste in a snowstorm unless you bite your lip in fear, and then the metallic taste of your self-imposed wound becomes a reminder to stay calm... or as calm as you can.
Mary sent me a great excerpt from her wonderful book "A Reluctant Warrior", and between the fire and the snow and the fire's effect on the snow, it's a gripping scene. If you read the Wishing Bridge opening scene... and Mary's scene... and take the time to watch those two episode links (and you might have to buy the opening episode of "The Last American Cowboy". I bought the whole series so I can use it for reference writing Westerns and cowboys... it's been invaluable.) you'll have immersed yourself in the realities of snow and how a brilliant scene doesn't just draw a reader in... it leaves them longing for more. And maybe-- just maybe-- they'll skip the fireworks to read your book.
EXCERPT FROM THE RELUCTANT WARRIOR by Mary Connealy
Ruthy asked me to write about snow. This scene (I’ve cut a few chunks out of a much longer scene) was one I brainstormed with a couple of my kids. I needed my characters in danger and had decided to have a villain burn their house down.
Except, shame on me, I decided that wasn’t enough.
I wanted to talk about how dangerous fire was and one of the kids (or several talking together) said yes, fire is dangerous but how much worse would it be in the bitter cold during a blizzard. And out of that came this scene. Heavy, powdery snow like they get on the ski slopes buried the house. Then comes the fire, digging yourself out through doors and windows that are buried deep.
And blazing fire melts the snow into ice and you’re soaked in ice water, surrounded by deep snow.
One of the things I loved about this was the fire that was trying to kill them, is now desperately needed to survive. And the snow that was freezing them, is now an insulator on the bunkhouse still standing that helps them warm the building and save them.
It’s all how a matter of degrees…in this case, blazing hot and brutally cold degrees.
Here the best of the snow and cold from the scene I wrote.
The Reluctant Warrior
[Cam set his children] down, sick about leaving them in the bitter water and ice. But he had to get everyone else out. He had to. These four out here were soaked now. Him, too. Cold, with wet clothes was as deadly as fire, though a slower way to die.
Fire danced up the back of Slim’s coat. Cam juggled Gwen to free a hand and rip the coat off the youngster. Cam slammed the coat on the ground to extinguish it. Then he caught Slim by the arm, still hanging onto Gwen, and dragged them all forward. He collapsed in the ice water, now sooty and blackened.
There was sudden shouting and hands pounded on him. Someone screamed. In the yelling, he heard, “Your hair’s on fire!”
Gwen was gone from him. Cam was pushed face first into the icy slush, then rolled onto his back. Through the daze, Cam swatted at the attack. Hadn’t he been hurt enough?
All the grappling hands turned him onto his front and his own coat was torn away. Trace grabbed snow in both hands and plowed it into the back of Cam’s head.
Then he was back on his feet, shivering violently, even with the blazing cabin at his back. He was soaked front and back in ice water. A stiff breeze froze his fingers and face, the rest of his body chilled with shocking speed.
And he looked at the whirlwind of hurt and scared people. In all the action, Penny and Gwen lay motionless. Then Penny coughed. It was deep and sounded painful but it was a sign of life.
Trace hauled Cam to his feet. “Your hair, your coat, most of your back was on fire.”
Cam’s blue army coat was shoved back in his hands and he pulled it on, even though it was as wet and cold as he was.
He realized no one from the cabin had a coat.
The men from the bunk house had grabbed coats. Everyone on Trace’s ranch slept fully clothed and kept their boots on to battle the cold. But the men in the bunkhouse had grabbed their coats. No one from the cabin was given a chance.
“We have to get the children warm.” Adam turned toward the bunkhouse, then turned back. “We put the fire out in there.”
Cam’s eyes went to Maddy Sue (his daughter) shivering. Water dripped from her clothes. Ronnie was soaking wet. Maddy Sue wrapped her arms around her little three-year-old body, shaking, crying. Cam met Slim’s eyes, judged the boy to be fully alert, picked up Gwen and handed her over.
“Get her inside. She hasn’t shown any sign of waking up, not even coughing.” She was alive though. He felt her breathing. He felt her warm in his arms.
Ruthy here: Connealy did a brilliant job of showing how nature and elements TRY TO KILL US!!!! But if we keep our wits about us, and react (very physics friendly, we need an "equal and opposite" reaction to be able to save ourselves!!!) in the best ways, we can live. Or people die and we have heart-gripping backstory that haunts heroes and heroines for years to come.
Either way works... and if you tell it right, it's a scene your readers will never forget.
I know you can do this. I know it takes work and word choice and scene speed, and all those little things that separate the men from the boys... but I have faith in you. Do your research. Write, write and rewrite... Make 'em feel every step of the way. I trust you.
You've got this.
We've got a couple of books to give away today... but you've got to tell us you want them! The book will most likely include a winter storm! :) Leave a comment about winter below... and we'll be checking in throughout the day. Ruthy has two kids all day today (remote learning) and a 9:00 meeting, but she'll mosey over here... And Mary will check in off-and-on, too... And thanks for stopping by Seekerville. You and your success mean so much to us!
Mary is tossing a copy of The Reluctant Warrior and Ruthy is giving away a copy of Wishing Bridge... a total score for two wonderful people! If you already have one or both, tell us.... You know we'll take care of you!
Mary and Ruthy have been friends for about 18 years now, maybe more, once Mary forgave Ruthy for giving her a Bad Score in a writing contest.... and then they came face-to-face and Ruthy had to admit it, and cry and whine and beg forgiveness (okay, you know that never happened, Ruthy succinctly told Mary why she tried to ruin Mary's career before it even got launched, and she takes full responsibility and credit for Mary's amazing success.) Yep. That seems more likely.
Find Mary's website here...
Friend and annoy them on Facebook and they do love it when folks buy their books. Links for The Reluctant Warrior and Welcome to Wishing Bridge are below: (in case you missed them as you skimmed, darlings!)