So, I’ve been talking a lot about creating the atmosphere or mood in a story because it’s really super important. Two weeks ago, I talked a bit about creating mood or atmosphere in your story, and last week, I shared some cool ideas from other humans.
This week we’re going to summarize and expand a little bit. So, let’s get moody together.
Talking about the world outside your character really helps people get the mood of the story.
But to do that effectively you need . . .
Seriously. Word choice is key when creating atmosphere and mood.
I walked to the bar. I ordered a drink. I sipped it.
Pretty dull, right? Kind of reads like bad stage directions. But look what happens when we start trying to show the character’s mood and the atmosphere of the setting.
I sashayed to the bar’s disco-ball lit corner.
“One super hot and sexy turtleneck sweater with extra cuddles,” I announced to the super hot and sexy bartender. He took my credit card with five quick fingers and a wink.
Two seconds later, the warm mug was in my hand, the smell of mint and rum wafting into my nose.
Let’s try another mood.
My feet stuck to the beer-soaked, beer-dried, beer-imbued wooden floor as I pushed past the giant football players that formed a wall between me and the most disgusting, germ-filled objective in my recent future: the make-shift, plywood dorm room bar that Bill and Ted set up in the edge of their quad.
“Dude? You want some?” Bill surfer drawled when I got past the barrio of testosterone and Axe body spray. He held out the keg’s hose. Something brown crusted near the nozzle. Something brown that was definitely not beer.
Swallowing hard, I managed to stay upright as someone pushed behind me. My palm struck the plywood. A splinter tore into the flesh and stuck there.“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.”
The difference here is the details and the words, right? In both bits someone wants a drink and goes to the bar to get there but they are very different moods.
A walk is not a sashay is not a tiptoe is not a gallop is not a slog. Whenever you can use verbs, nouns, adjectives and details that convey how your character feels.
To become a magistrate of words, you can check out a thesaurus. It feels like cheating, but it’s super helpful.
Those little word choices are subconscious hints to the reader that tells them things. They think, “Oh, sashaying, how happy they must be, how confident.”
When our characters talk to other people and they are the thrilling or overbearing or confusing or just plain quirky or mean, it helps create the mood that’s happening in the story.
If your characters have to whisper that can change the mood. The same goes for yelling, screeching, singing, preaching.
Sentence Structure and White Space
Readers subconsciously pick up on a lot of things that us writers put out and one of those things is sentence structure and white space (the part of the page where no words are).
The shorter the sentences, the higher the tension and faster the pace the reader goes over that page. That can make things feel more tense, more agitated, more suspenseful.
The longer the sentence and bigger the paragraph creates a more languid feel and slower mood that the reader has.
DO NOT TELL THE READER THINGS.
In my example of the bar earlier, one of the main differences is I didn’t do a ton of telling what they were doing. But I did in that first example where there was no mood:
I walked to the bar. I ordered a drink. I sipped it. I felt happy because I was going to get a drink and was looking forward to that Shirley Temple.
The details that us writers choose are meant to show the reader things rather than constantly telling the reader things.
I pretty much sashayed over to the bar, hand up, credit card out. “Hey, girlie!” My voice skipped over to Donna of Shirley Temple mixing fame. “I am so ready for my daily fix!”
Different right? I never say that she’s happy, but we can feel that she’s happy. And that’s what atmosphere and mood is really all about. We want to make the reader feel things.