I read all of Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing yesterday. I’d not read them all together until now, but seen a couple here and there. I don’t recall nine but one of the ten stuck with me overnight: don’t begin with weather. I can’t recall if I’ve ever opened with weather here on 1000 Days. Sure I’ve opened with environmental conditions: raining, wet, snow, cold, dark, misty. I don’t think those have ever been elevated to actors within the landscape. I’m going to give it a shot this morning.
I expected to call up a thunderstorm, but seem that forest fires dominate my thoughts. Today that’s weather. Hopefully I can pull this off without using the words licking or raging or roaring.
Flames licked the base of a pine tree while the frontline raged on the other slope; the main fire had roared through here earlier in the morning. Just kidding.
Downwind, the smoke taints the light pale orange. Sarah hooks a grocery bag of photos over a pointy lump of something and latches the backglass of her Toyota 4Runner. The cave-like atmosphere is both novel and frightening. When she pauses for moments like this she wonders if somehow she won’t make it to safety by the span of time she’s wasting right now. She envisions her escape barred by a toppling flaming Ponderosa and her 4Runner skidding to a sideways halt in the dirt road. Surely she could throw it into 4-wheel drive and skirt the main trunk.
She realizes she’s gasping from loading the truck and from breathing the smoke. She goes inside one more one-last-time to seek cleaner air and mementos. She finds neither.
Back outside she grabs the extra propane tank and vents it open. Twenty bucks is worth not coming home to a perfectly sound house with a scortched hole near the grill. Should she lock the doors?
“Fuck it.” She leaves the doors unlocked.
And there I didn’t really write about weather or fire. By the second line I had a character. Hmmm.