Mist vs. Fog – Who Cares?

Originally posted on Michael Runs the Gamut on January 5, 2013

Well, I do. Am I anal-retentive about it? I don’t think so, but I do think details are important, especially as a writer.

So, why did I pick mist vs. fog as a topic? I’m a member of a writing/critique group, and we recently established a blog called Diamonds in the Slush. Our intent is to read and review self-published and small press books, books that possibly wouldn’t get as much notice as something from a large publishing house. The review blog will probably go live in April 2013, maybe sooner. When it does I’ll link to it here. [Note: There is no link because that blog didn’t survive, but it was a nice experiment while it lasted].

The first book I reviewed had the word mist in the title, but the story only dealt with a fog, not a mist. That nagged at me, so I added a discussion about it into If a Butterfly. So, what’s the difference, and why is it important? Here’s a brief excerpt.


After the first hour or so, the fog lessened slightly, and Dick felt more alert than yesterday. As they neared Loudon, Tennessee, gazing between the fir and cedar trees that separated one side of the highway from the other, he found he could actually see the traffic on the other side now, not just their lights. “It’s more misty than foggy now,” he said.

“What’s the difference?” Jane asked.

“I don’t remember the exact percentages, but I remember reading somewhere that it’s basically a difference in thickness. They’re both just ground-hugging clouds, but fog is thicker, harder to see through. When you can see farther through it, it’s mist.”

“Cool. So, it’s really the same phenomenon, just variations in intensity.”


“Can you have fog when it rains?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m not sure, but if there’s too much moisture in the air, I don’t think clouds can stay on the ground. Rain on the ground, no fog.”


Here are two Wikipedia articles if you want some more specific details about mist or fog.



So why is it important to get the little details right?


How can your readers trust you if your work is riddled with errors, either large or small? This is especially true if your book is set in a real place at a real time. Butterfly happens mostly in September of 2003, all over the United States and in outer space. Researching the details, before and during the writing of the novel, was difficult and time consuming, but necessary. If I mention fir and cedar trees by a roadway, and readers live in the area I’m describing, they’re going to know (or be able to find out) if the trees are actually there. Unless you’ve created the world of your book from whole cloth, getting details right allows the reader who is familiar with that subject to accept that the rest of the book is accurate as well.

Trust is important.

How do you research?


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3 thoughts on “Mist vs. Fog – Who Cares?”

  1. Hi Michael
    I never thought of the subject before recently. I was listening to a birder talk about movies. He is the type of murder who can identify a bird from its song. I am not. But he can’t stand going to the movies and hearing a bird from say London chirping away in Wyoming. He says it happens all the time and ruins his enjoyment of the movie.
    I expect this same issue can come up in books. I just never thought of it before.

      • Hi, Nancy —

        Thanks for your comment. I think there’s a danger for authors in either direction (using too much detail, or not using enough to give the reader a sense of place), but I’ve always felt that above all I needed to be accurate enough to not have the flow of the story stopped for the average reader by saying something that was clearly inaccurate. There will always be a few readers who are more knowledgeable than the writer about a particular topic, and that can’t be helped. That’s one of the reasons I asked you and Jon so many strange questions about Monarchs when I was first researching the story. Hope you both enjoy the series. I hope to have both books in the mail to you before the end of the month. Author’s copies are often slower to arrive than others for some reason.



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