Time to Write Now By Julaina Kleist-Corwin

About Writing Plus

The Use of Natural Disasters in your Fiction

Texas hurricane 1900This photo is one of many showing the destruction of the deadly hurricane in Galveston Texas, September 8, 1900, a  hundred fifteen years ago today. Winds raged at least 115 miles per hour and the hurricane was classified as a Category 4. The loss of life, 6,000 to 8,000 people is the worst weather-related disaster recorded in U.S. history. Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 was the costliest. Hurricanes weren’t named until 1953 when they used female names and in 1979, the U.S. National Weather Service began using men’s names also. (Research is important if you use natural disasters in your writing.)

My first NaNoWriMo novel began with a tornado that hit Wisconsin, and the ten-year-old protagonist’s mother was killed in it. When I revised the novel several times, the word count wasn’t large enough. The following NaNoWriMo, I wrote about the same protagonist at age 20. In the revision stage, I combined the two drafts into one novel. Eva at 10 is in the first chapter, the second is Eva at 20, and I continued with Eva’s two ages in alternating chapters.

To keep the tension high in the grown-up Eva’s part of the story, I had it begin with her boyfriend’s suicide. I liked alternating chapters and in Hada’s Fog, I continued the style with Hada’s point of view in one chapter and her husband’s in the next one. It worked very well for both novels. I’m blogging Hada’s Fog on this site (see menu bar).

I understand what we writers are told about putting action on the first page. I have drafts in various stages with the two above mentioned novels, plus the one I’m writing now, Norman in The Painting.

By far, in comparison to the other novels, Eva’s beginning page with the tornado has

  • the most tension
  • the deepest emotion
  • the quickest character development
  • the best immediate reader identification with the protagonist.

The tornado beat the suicide in Eva at 20, it beat Hada’s anger, and it beat Jill’s fear of being killed in Norman in the Painting. Natural disasters don’t have to be in the beginning of a novel or short story. They are useful for the sagging middle to pick up the pace. But be sure it’s not just a ploy. A natural disaster in the middle needs to make sense to the story, you could make it a symbol of a relationship, have it move the story along, or add it in masking a clue in a mystery.

Keep the opportunity to add a natural disaster to your story in a file, post a note, or wherever you keep ideas. I suggest doing research if you want the disaster to be believable in the time and place you have selected.

Have you used a hurricane or tornado or flood, or…..?  Tell us about it.


Information from www.history.com