What makes a reader afraid to turn the page of a book, hands shaking in terror? What makes a reader cry with the protagonist in a story?
The answer is mood! Crafting mood — or an “atmosphere” — in writing is key to creating an unforgettable reading experience. Writers have at least three tools to create mood: setting, diction, and tone.
One of the most powerful ways to create mood is through setting, the physical location of the story. In book two of Strange Spark, the characters discover an abandoned subterranean laboratory. This setting is perfect for creating a dark, creepy mood. The characters and reader alike wonder what lies in the flickering shadows.
This kind of mood-creation is used to great effect in many Japanese horror films. Dark, dank areas — like the well in “Ringu” [or “The Ring” as it was known in English] — are common motifs.
Another example of a different type of mood can be found in Charles Dickens’s “Pickwick Papers.”
“The river, reflecting the clear blue of the sky, glistened and sparkled as it flowed noiselessly on.”
The details of a clear sky and a glistening, quiet river evoke a serene mood.
Think of a few details your setting contains. Then pick specific verbs and adjectives to convey the mood you want. For example, if Dickens sought a sad mood he could have written the above passage thusly:
Storm clouds twisted in the river’s bone-white waves.
Diction is word choice. Listen to how the words sound together. Select euphonious words that flow well together to create a happy mood, or select jarring, cacophonous words for a negative mood. Take note of emotional associations [“connotations”] of words too:
Bunnies bounced in the garden as clouds loomed overhead.
The word “loomed” doesn’t work very well in this sentence because the connotation is of something scary or impending. A better choice might be something like this:
Bunnies bounced in the garden as clouds floated across the horizon.
Sentence construction is another part of this. Short, clipped sentences can add to a tense scene. Long, flowery sentences with lots of semi-colons and commas slow down action; they work well when you are trying to convey a pleasant mood. [See what I did there?]
Tone is how you approach the theme. It helps you create the mood of your story. Your viewpoint character’s attitude toward story events is key in achieving tone. Manipulate tone by manipulating your character’s attitude: what do they see and how do they feel about it? How do their reactions change as the story progresses? Use the viewpoint character’s reactions to sensory perceptions to build up your mood.
Take a look at this description of a first kiss:
The cramped car seat pinched my legs. Dread curled in my stomach. She leaned in, matted hair falling across her eyes, and opened her mouth. Hot, cloying breath rolled out and I nearly gagged.
Doesn’t sound pleasant, right? The viewpoint character is in an awkward position and trying not to vomit.
To create a tone that works, be sure that your character’s reactions make sense in the moment.
By building mood, you can clarify themes and evoke a powerful reader response. How do you convey mood in your works? Tell us in the comments!