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 (Season 1, Episode 2)
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!)
BUY THE RELUCTANT WARRIOR HERE
BUY WELCOME TO WISHING BRIDGE HERE
58 Comments on Seekerville: The Journey Continues: Living, Breathing Snow Scenes
I think it was Janette Oke that first introduced me to a snowstorm written so well that I was shivering in the summertime. I remember it was so bad that they had to tie a rope from the house to the barn, and then tie a loop of sorts between themselves and the lead rope. OH! How I love to call North Carolina home! No blizzards! We live on the eastern side of the mountains that usually block the snow from us. But when it comes from the south, we have on occasion, got slammed (meaning 6+ inches) LOL!
Most of our danger comes from ice. Sleet is our biggest enemy and the mountains don't block it. My neighbors, originally from Vermont, get a big laugh out of everybody here thinking they are snowed in or iced in with just barely a ground covering.
I have read Mary's book and proudly own the series. Indeed, she made the snow and fire scene very vivid. I could almost feel myself choking from the smoke...love it! (Well, not the choking sensation, but the detailed writing!)
I base my writing right here in my area so that I can be as accurate as possible about the weather and effects, but I sure do like to read about the unimaginable to me, yet real life to you. Wonderful post Ruthy! Please put my name in the drawing for your book."
And 6 inches is awesome! I remember last year (2019) my granddaughter's birthday gift was 9 inches in Durham and she was so excited! They broke out the winter layers, built a snowman, went sledding.... they get so envious when they see we're getting snow up here because you guys get lots and lots of cold... cold... rain in the winter. But I will envy your early spring, Lynne! "
There's also a lot of snow HERE, as New England gets the white stuff we didn't get in January. Time to retrench, hunker down, burrow.
Shoveling out in New Hampshire"
Going to college at Ohio State, I walked the campus many times in deep snow to get to class. Driving home to KY in the midst of snow storms happened more times that I like to remember.
As a kid, I recall two huge snowstorms that shut down Northern VA where we lived at the time. Of course, I didn't worry about the problems the snow caused because I was having too much fun sledding down the nearby hills.
The most frightening snow memory was Jan 2014 when ATL was hit with snow and ice. My young grandchildren were stranded at school, and buses and cars couldn't navigate the hilly, icy roads to get to them. Dads with all-terrain vehicles started transporting kids home. Others hunkered down to spend the night at school. Finally my daughter and a neighbor with a jeep managed to rescue my grands quite late at night. Her husband, my son-in-law, had started driving home at noon from his business in downtown ATL. He finally had to ditch his car due to icy hills, walked the last five miles on foot and arrived home at midnight. I kept praying everyone would be safe.
Okay, enough snow stories. I need a hot cup of coffee to warm me up! :)"
I say all this because I am reminded, due to this topic, that at one point, I had three books in a row where there was a hypothermia scene. I didn't really notice at the time, but then as they released, bam, bam, bam. The man having to share life giving warmth with his own body to save the woman.
Probably didn't need to do it in EVERY book.
And now I can't think when I've done hypothermia since. Not even in that freezing cold Reluctant Warrior book.
I was scarred I guess!"
One of the reasons I like to set my books in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado is because terrain (mountains) and weather become characters and add tension. It's hard to fall off a mountain in Texas. "
But you get a ways south and people are just not ready for a blizzard.
I am fond of saying...if Atlanta shuts down because of snow, who knows, it might be an inch of snow or a thin layer of ice. But they aren't prepared to deal with it. But if O'Hare shuts down you KNOW it's bad.
In Omaha the new thing is, if weather is forecast, or ice, the city now has an ice water concoction they put on the streets BEFORE the snow comes and it never sticks to the streets then. We are READY for snow up here,"
Those two trip me up a LOT."
We had a snow/ ice storm in 1967 when I was in highschool in Northern Illinois.
I married we lived lots of places including North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Ground blizzards are fun! We drove the north south road with snow piled high on either side and snow blowing l only the semi drivers could see above it. Then we turned east west ( North Dakota) in sub zero weather and saw all kinds of cars and semis that had slid off the road or got pushed by the wind. We had car trouble in a very sparsely populated place. Hubby had to get under the hood to fix something. We had to get across the state. He was getting his license to preach, with an interview, etc.
needless to say when we retired, we moved south!
I have read and gave 5 stars to Wishing Bridge. But somehow, I missed Mary’s book. I did read the tirst in that series. I would like to be entered to win!
paula from Missouri: paulamarys49ATgmailDOTcom"
God got you through!
I once got stuck in the snow in a ground blizzard. I was seven months pregnant. I drove into the white and there was a snow drift most of the way across the road I couldn't see and plowed to a stop. My Cowboy had boots and gloves and overalls, a hat and scarf, all loaded in the car for me and I put it all on and walked toward the highway. A pickup stopped with two farmers in it. They took me in to get me warm and pulled the car out of the snow and got me rolling again.
Farmers and cowboys are the salt of the earth. Also the tow chains of the earth.
I just started being way more careful about when I even left the house."
I thought I knew snow living in the snowbelt of Ontario growing up and learning how to drive in it. Then I met and married my French Canadian husband. He laughed at my idea of a snowstorm. Until the first winter visits I spent in the Eastern townships of Quebec, I understood why he laughed. There's the snowbelt of Ontario winter (where temperatures are warm compared to the temps my hubby grew up with) and then there's Quebec and Atlantic Canada winters. I have also spent some winter time in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta which is again, different!
I guess the takeaway is to know the landscape of the setting. I've found that researching past storms (news stories are great), historical weather patterns and travel forums like TripAdvisor are great resources to get a sense of how bad things get in the area.
I own both books (so it's up to you whether you throw my name in the hat or not).
PS - I LOVED Mary's opening scene the first time I read it. THIS is winter!"
In my opening scene I talk about powdery snow, like on ski slopes. We don't have that much in Nebraska."
You guys are spot on about snow being SO different based on where you are. I grew up forty miles west of Lake Michigan, and lake effect snow was a way of life. As a child, it was fabulous. I remember a series of years in the late 60's when we regularly had snow piles along side the road over six feet high. People used to put orange balls on their car antennas so other drivers could see them approaching a corner.
Then we moved to Kansas. The prairie snows aren't as deep and wet as the Michigan snows I was used to, but the wind made all the difference. Ground blizzards are treacherous!
Here in western South Dakota, the wind is even more of a factor. It's hard to measure a snowfall because grass will be showing in one part of the yard while a six foot drift is in the other part. And we're semi-arid, so often the snow evaporates instead of melting. We'll have a 6° sunny day with 10% humidity, and the snow will disappear.
But blizzards are the most impressive! Winds of 70 mph are common during a storm, and sometimes we have thunder snow - just like a thunderstorm, but with snow. We stay home during those storms!
Snow, whether a storm, a pleasant flurry, or treacherous ice can be a great setting for a book! Now you have me thinking where I can use one in my WIP...
We haven't had many storms this year (the one that dumped 10" on Mary gave us a dusting as it passed by,) but that makes them even more amazing when they hit."
I grew up in NY and NJ and we'd have ten inches of snow and we'd still have school if the snow plows could get out in time! We kids would be rooting for the plows to be too late! Here in Tulsa, if the forecast is for two inches of snow, they call off school! That's just the forecast…if it didn't actually snow, school was still off!
I think it has been over fifty years now but when I read "ICE" by Anna Kavan,(50th Anniversary Edition is out), it was a hot July day, and of course, no one had air conditioning back then, (the movies did) and I was shivering as I read it. That was one of the most memorable books I've ever read. It made you cold!!! And this was New Jersey where the heat and humidity is so high in the summer that the mesquites grow to three times their normal size. Just any New Yorker about Jersey mosquitoes and they will confirm this.
BTW: I can just imagine an Eskimo reading this post and thinking, you've just scratched the surface. When you guys need over tweny different words to describe snow, come talk to us!
Are you sure about, "The Reluctant Warrior"? It seems to me that storm and the fire were a big part of "The Reluctant Guardian". Of course, these reluctant guys are more likely to get caught in snow storms. (You know, we can wait. It won't be that bad. We have time to wait. The passes won't close this early in the season.)
This was a great time for this snow post. I was just at the part in, "A Brother's Promise", a Bliss Texas series book, where a very rare ice storm is coming and the whole town is scattering around because ice storms in that part of the country are hell. Snow melts in a few days at most. Ice takes down the power lines and blocks all the roads with fallen trees and branches.
I've been out of power for ten days here in Tulsa because of an ice storm. Five days the storm before that! And this was just after my wife, just had to have fake gas logs installed! (We still had a full cord of logs in the back yard we couldn't use.) I know ice storms in the worse way!!!
Now I can't wait for this ice storm to hit Bliss. I can tell you day by day what it is like. So far the descriptions are dead on. I can just 'see' it is going to be a great "Stranded in Bliss" story. Just the hero, a single set in his ways bachelor and heroine who has no use for a man, both around forty years old and an adorable, very gifted five year old orphan girl. All stranded in a man cave!!! And I'm just 11% into the book!
Yes, indeed, the perfect post for a Friday before the Super Bowl!
And the towns put up snow fencing along the farmers' fields on the north south roads because our prevailing winds come from the west. I love that they worked this out with farmers because it's a huge help at keeping the snow drifts off the road and holding them in the field. Brilliant! "
We are that nice. :)
And I love your idea about checking past storms and land formations. It all makes a difference. Now if we have something happen without mentioning the "why" of it, the lake effect, the mountains, the valley, etc, then we can mess up believability, because folks know their stuff. Dagnabbit, can't fool 'em! :)
And I bet those regions of Canada are distinct, aren't they? Even though they're all "north", they're all unique."
Great points, Jan! "
Yeah, writing them is easier, but honestly this year, everyone's home and there's no place to go, so of course... no big snow storm!
ay yi yi. :)"
You're right. I got the titles mixed up but then the Guardian was not the guardian of little kids like one would think and the Warrior was a kind of guardian of little kids being sent to the real guardians out west. Of course, I might have all this mixed up. I kind of like the days when you had titles like, "Doctor in Petticoats" and "Sharpshooter in Petticoats" -- you knew which book in the series you were reading. :)
You wrote: "maybe I painted too dark a picture". I thought that was what you did. Romantic Realism. It just seems odd. BTW: my wife still wants the gas logs. She just left me in the house and went to live with her mother! I stayed and watched the house.
I have read both books, so no need to put me in the drawing. Those who win them are in for a treat!"
And Vince, I will admit I loved that opening and premise, but I was able to use the ice storm in The First Gift, and readers love the story, so it didn't go to waste!
Hey, there's a surprise in the mail for you."
What is the weather like in northern Utah? Mostly cold and dry or lots of snow? We have the Great Lakes (which haven't frozen at all this year with a warm December and January, so they're still open water and feeding the snow machine) so they have a huge, huge effect on weather and sunshine... and summer storms. It's amazing the force of water on weather. I marvel at it. For real."
Mary, that's my kind of skiing! I used to ski when I was in high school and college. I'm not afraid of breaking bones, but I'm sure I'd tear every ligament and cartilage in my body if I tried to go now. They do get a lot of snow in the Park City area, because it's higher up in the mountains."