If you’ve never lived in a cold climate or you don’t have experience writing about one, a cold weather scene can seem daunting. It is easy to fall into the cliche of every time it’s cold, someone just shivers. But that leaves your story feeling predictable, unimaginative, and flat.
These 5 tips can help you learn how to describe cold weather in a story. You and your readers will be shivering right along with your characters in these immersive scenes.
Interested in writing a hot weather scene instead? Check out this article for tips on bringing the heat.
1. Stop making everyone shiver all the time
First off, shivering happens in the cold but if that’s the only way you convey the cold, you’ll end up with a repetitive and boring scene. In fact, search for the word “shiver” in your draft and cut as many of them as possible. Trust me. Some people don’t shiver that much, while others tend to do the whole teeth chattering. It varies. If you’re going to talk about shivering, show me what is happening. Show me the “body tremble” or “the teeth chatter”. The word shiver is just so over-used.
2. Let the reader see the cold’s bite
The cold affects humans visibly and including that can really make one relate to your character and feel for them. Some physical reactions are a very red nose, cheeks that feel rubbed raw, a very warm mouth (since its the only part that will feel warm), fingers that move slowly, wet hair that actually freezes, burning earlobes, and burning toes. Though ‘burning’ is most often related to fire, often times when the cold gets to a point, it does truly feel like burning.
3. Describe the snowy, icy, frozen world around your characters
Don’t simply tell us how your character feels in the cold. If you want readers to shiver along with them, tell us how “the wind is whipping through the trees, creaking and groaning like an old rocking chair”. Tell us how “the snow sparkles with ice crystals, hardened so that the newly fallen snow bounces on the top every time a breeze stirs the air”. Tell us how “the snow blazes in the sun, seeming to radiate a heat that tempts one to step outside yet saps the warmth the moment you do”. Tell us how “the snow falls, tiny little specs of ice floating down to land on a nose or a forehead, a single soldier in the army coming from the sky to cover the land in an icy grip”.
4. Fashion choices can be life or death
Clothing makes a difference. Wearing a big warm fluffy coat will help, but the key to staying warm is layering. A character can survive even negative temperatures with a few pairs of socks, a few shirts, sweatshirts, and a regular coat. But remember, especially in the extreme cold, any uncovered part (nose, ears, cheeks) will get very cold, very quickly, even if the rest of you is warm. Someone who has lived in a cold climate or is familiar with it will always layer up and cover all exposed areas. But, if you are in a cold that contains heavy, wet snow, you will need something that is more water repellent or you’ll be carrying wet gear and facing a sickness. The type of clothes your character has on will tell your readers if he is comfortable or not in the climate and hint at possible dangers ahead for them.
5. Cold comes in many different forms
Remember, not all cold is the same. If you all ever say is “it’s cold”, you lose the opportunity to deepen your story’s setting and build a truly immersive scene. Some types of cold are :
Icy, clear and windy: This is a painful cold, which usually leads to a burning feeling in any low-circulation or exposed areas. This is the type of cold where frostbite happens. Wind can make it worse by dropping the “feels-like” temperature or biting into skin. Usually, icy snow sparkles and it can look quite warm outside despite the freezing cold reality. (Actual: negatives to single digits. Feels like: extreme negatives)
Icy and snowy: This is dangerous, but often times beautiful. When it’s extremely cold, snowflakes tend to be small, hard, and more like ice. The snowfall amount often remains lower and it can lead to extremely slippery and dangerous conditions. (Negative to single digit)
Cold and clear: This is the most normal. It’s cold, but the sun is out or it’s not precipitating. If your character is going on a journey or traveling, this will be the best kind of day. You can even get rather warm while doing things in this kind of day like walking, shoveling, etc. (Mid-teens to high twenties)
Cold and wet/snowing: This is the type of day where the temperatures are a little higher but because of that the snow is heavy, thick, and tends to be very wet. Despite not being very cold, this can be one of the most dangerous types to be out in. You tend to get very wet in it and if you’re not properly prepared, this can lead to colds, pneumonia, or hypothermia. (High twenties to mid-thirties)
Cold and wet/rain: This is a nasty type, similar to the above category. It’s still cold, yet it’s raining rather than snowing. Occasionally it will feel more like sleet coming down. This is miserable. It’s not extremely cold but the rain makes everything wet. This can also lead to sickness very easily if not properly prepared. An especially dangerous aspect is the fact that when the sun goes down, the rain tends to turn to ice on the roads, sidewalks, and other surfaces making everything extremely slick. (Low thirties to high thirties)
There are many mixes of these and other types of cold depending on the climate you’re in.
Hope these tips help. Go out there and write some frigid scenes. If you have any other questions, you can comment here or shoot me a question on my contact page!