How To Get Moody In Your Story

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.


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.

Welcome To 2023, Writers

Let’s kick some butt (in a chill, non aggressive way)

Photo by Johnny Briggs on Unsplash

Hey! Thanks so much for being kind about me not posting during the holidays. It really helped be think about what and how to be helpful. I appreciate it a lot and you can expect some new things this year from me. Fingers crossed. I’m going to try to be braver about sharing advice and information and thoughts.

So . . .

Recently, a really popular YouTube author gave out some editing advice. She’s cool. She’s pretty. She’s sarcastic and fun. She’s promoting her own book.

But she also is a little bit wrong this go around because she says the first step in a professional edit is the developmental edit.

It isn’t. Not always.

The first step is often an editorial assessment. Then you revise. Then if you have a butt-ton of money because your daddy is rich and your mother’s good looking, you can hush like a little baby, don’t cry, and get a developmental edit.

Or . . .

You can realize that the first step in a developmental edit is an editorial assessment.

What are these two shiny bits of editing bling?

What is this developmental edit? An editorial assessment?

Let’s use Reedsy’s definitions, okay? Reedsy is a massive platform that connects authors to editors and other freelance professionals and makes sure that those freelancing professionals don’t suck. Full disclosure: I was recruited for Reedsy a couple of years ago and I make money there.

Here’s what that platform (that includes 1 million authors and 2,500 freelancers like me) says about those two styles:

“Editorial Assessment. This is a popular and cost-effective first step for authors, ideal for those at an early stage of their rewrites. Editors offering an editorial assessment will usually:

  • Read and analyze your manuscript;
  • Provide an evaluation in the format of a report, covering all aspects of the story, structure, and commercial viability;
  • Offer suggestions to guide your rewrites.”

And then . . .

“Developmental Editing. A nose-to-tail structural edit of your manuscript for authors who have taken their book as far as they can by themselves. A developmental edit often includes everything in an editorial assessment, plus:

  • Detailed recommendations to improve “big picture” concerns like characterization, plot, pacing, setting, etc.;
  • Specific guidance on elements of writing craft;
  • In-line suggestions and edits in the manuscript.”

So, you could go with a YouTuber’s definition or a platform’s. Totally up to you. But that’s the thing: a lot of people get a lot of money creating edicts for those of us who don’t know better.

They say:

  • These are the best ways to write.
  • These are the worst ways to write.
  • These are the best ways to start your story.
  • These are the worst ways to start your story.

And it’s all absolutes.

Here’s the thing (and I’m going to sound absolute here):

Art and writing aren’t about absolutes. There is diversity of thought and culture and literature and perception. It shouldn’t all be ‘my way or the highway.’ Your psychographics, your family, your culture, your education, your location, your gender identity, race, religion, all create who you are and your story.

Don’t Lose Yourself

When you’re trying to get published or trying to get a ton of readers, you can sometimes lose yourself and your story in the process of listening to those edicts. Stay true, okay? Learn and grow, but don’t accept absolutely everything that an influencer says as gospel. The world and you and your story is bigger than that.

Here is a photo of my cat, Koko,judging me for losing myself in the past.


Because I was just talking about Reedsy, I’m going to take one from there. Thanks, Reedsy!

Your character always makes the same promise; to change. Will they finally make it happen this time?

Write a story about someone scrambling on New Year’s Eve to fulfil their resolutions for the entire year before the clock strikes twelve.

You can submit your stories at those links as well. And enter a weekly contest.



“We have two submission periods for fiction and poetry:

December through January

August through September

“We accept nonfiction and art submissions year-round.

“Salt Hill accepts only online submissions via Submittable for poetry, fiction, nonfiction and reviews. For visual art submissions, see below. Most, if not all, of our published work is selected from unsolicited submissions.

“We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you alert us as soon as possible if your work is placed elsewhere by either adding a note to your submission through Submittable or withdrawing the full submission.

“We ask that you submit only once per genre per reading period.

“Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond individually to submission status queries. We aim to respond to submissions within three to six months.

“Unfortunately, we are not in the position to offer payment to our writers.

“Curious about what we like? Grab one of our issues, or take a dip through our online archive.


“Please submit no more than five poems at a time, in one document.”


“Please do not submit works of more than 30 pages. We accept multiple flash pieces, so long as their combined length does not exceed 30 pages. Please double space, unless the nature of your work requires special formatting.”


“The nonfiction we are interested in pushes the boundaries of the genre, making use of the techniques of fiction and poetry to tell a true story. We want memories, arguments, meditations, revelations, philosophical rants. Salt Hill is a literary journal, so please don’t send us articles or reports. We will consider nonfiction for both our print journal and our website.”

There you go! Let’s go kick some butt in 2023 or make some beautiful music or just really craft our stories the best way we can: piece by piece, word by word, hope by hope.

We’ve got this.

This content and other writing tips, etc. is over here, too.


Writing Life

Writing Tips

Fiction Writing

Three Hot Tips To Make Awesome First Pages

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Three Hot Tips To Make Awesome First Pages

Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.

Carrie has been talking to a lot of her authors lately about the beginning of their stories and how to make them awesome. And Carrie has a lot of tips for the writers she works with, but we’re going to be fast here.

Make it Tense AF

You don’t want to make readers in our time wait for the good stuff. Nobody is into waiting right now. It’s all instant gratification all the time. This is even true for most books. Too many details. Too much setting or exposition. And too little tension means that readers aren’t going to want to read on. Your first page should make the reader ask a question that they want the answer to.

Show Us What Your Book and Character Are About

This tip really means we want to see the core of your character and what they are yearning for on the very first page. If your book is a mystery, let us see it. If your book is an erotic novel about a hamster and a gerbil, we need to know that, too. The first thing the reader sees your main character doing? That shows the reader who that character is. If she’s running to rescue someone because she hears yelling? That tells us something about her. If she’s running away because she hears yelling? That tells us something about her, too.

Show Us Where They Hell We Are

Nothing is more annoying than a book that has no grounding elements. Let us readers know where the characters are hanging out. Are we in this century? This world? A cold climate? A warm one? What part of the year is it? Let the reader know where your characters are.

Bonus Tip: You don’t want a prologue unless you really need it and you probably don’t need it. We know! We know! It’s super sexy to start with all that backstory instead of trying to expertly twist it into the forward-moving scenes. But it’s also super lazy. And agents don’t like them if you’re trying to get traditionally published.

Spoiler: You can’t just give up after the first ten pages. You want to make sure that your whole book is fantastic and keeps hooking the reader and making them want to read more.

Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

I Lost My Damn Theme How Do I Find It

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
I Lost My Damn Theme How Do I Find It

Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.

Last week on our podcast we talked about theme, and we’re going back there again.

We know! We know! So scary. Why risk it again? We risk it for you, dear listener. Like a matyr-parent from the early 2000s, we’re writing your college essays and yelling at the soccer coach and doing the work.

Once again, what actually is a theme?

So, the theme is the central idea of your story.

According to

“A theme in a story is the major idea that the story leans or surrounds. It comments on human experience, and more often a story relates to real life situations. All stories have at least one theme.

“A theme gives the general view of the story. It gives the reader the insight into how the story characters live to pursue something good, the results of conflicts and how all these choices come to pass in their lives. In a story, there can be major and minor themes.

   A major theme is an idea the writer keeps on repeating in his work, portraying it as the most significant idea.

   The minor theme is the idea that appears briefly in the story.

“A theme needs to be compelling and captivating. You need to think carefully when choosing a theme for your story.”

Let’s go simple: It’s the idea your story is about and it’s good to include a verb in that idea and a noun/subject.

Some writing coaches will say to never ever explicitly state your theme. Some coaches will say you should absolutely have a character state your theme early on in your story (first act) but have your main character not get it.

Over on the blog writerswrite, they give examples of themes:

Crime pays.

Honesty is the best policy.

Who dares wins.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Home is where the heart is.

The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.

You never really know anybody.

People are predictable.

People with nothing to lose are dangerous.

Love conquers all.

Blood is thicker than water.

You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

What does not kill you makes you stranger.

That site uses the Lajos Egri Theme Cheat Sheet, which is from Ljos’s book: The Art of Dramatic Writing.

This is from the writerswrite blog.

And, according to Amanda Patterson who wrote that fantastic post, a theme is important and helps you actually write your novel because you then can make sure that every scene in your novel works toward that theme.

Over on the aresearchguide, they say,

“A theme gives a story meaning and hence creating an emotional impact. A theme creates a difference between a great story that readers can relate to and a mediocre one. The theme adds an in-depth and creates a connection to the story. It is necessary for an author to have a good and clear understanding of the theme (h)as this is the key to crafting great and awesome stories that readers will love.”

But it’s over on Amanda’s brilliant post that the three steps, the three really helpful steps, show up. These are a direct quote.

Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

Make Dialogue Your BFF

Dialogue and voice both do some really important things in your story.

Provide context

You can provide some pretty awesome information via dialogue and idiosyncratic character voice.

Show the subtext

Subtext is basically the hidden motivation/emotion/wants of your character that aren’t right there out on the surface.

So if I wrote: 

“Look at you in that onesie! What a brave person you are.” Shaun said with a grimace.

You’d know that Shaun is really thinking that the other character is more unconventional than brave.

Make things more exciting –

When you have two characters bickering, it tends to be more interesting on the page than saying, “They bickered.”

Dialogue and voice helps provide context, drama, and interest. It pulls the reader in. It’s a big part of showing rather than telling.

“I can’t believe you don’t like my onesie,” she said, spinning around in front of the couch, arms out.

He smirked. “Didn’t say that.”

“Manatees are frolicking on this.” She stopped spinning and pulled out the fabric a bit. “Look! Look at the print. It is imported.”

“You look like you’re two. A two year old with boobs.”

“Boobs! Call them breasts. Oh my word . . .”

“That makes you sound like a chicken.”

“You are the chicken, mister, a negative, judgmental and derogatory chicken and I am incensed that you don’t understand the value of this outfit or me.”

“WTF, baby.” 

Shows character difference.

Good dialogue and good voice show us how the characters aren’t the same. Even in my horrible example up there, the two characters don’t sound the same. One has longer sentences and more Latinate word choices. The other is a bit more blunt. One uses conjunctions and the other doesn’t.

Dialogue and voice go hand in hand to really make a huge impact on your story. Get cozy with them. Learn their rules. Buy them a coffee. Make them your friends. You won’t regret it.


I just want to let everyone know that INCHWORMS (The Dude Series Book 2) is out and having a good time as Dude competes for a full scholarship at a prestigious Southern college and getting into a bit of trouble.

Here’s what it’s about:

A fascinating must-read suspense from New York Times bestseller Carrie Jones.

A new chance visiting a small Southern college.
A potential love interest for a broken girl obsessed with psychology.
A damaged group of co-eds.
A drowning that’s no accident.
A threat that seems to have no end.

And just like that Jessica Goodfeather aka Dude’s trip away from her claustrophobic life in Maine to try to get an amazing scholarship to her dream school has suddenly turned deadly. Again.

What would you do to make a difference?

After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.

Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.

Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED seriesSaint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.

BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.

The cover. Creepy, right?

You can read an excerpt right here.

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