Let’s set the mood, part two: getting atmosphere in your story

WRITING TIPS ARE GOOD THINGS!

Last week, we talked a bit about creating mood or atmosphere in your story, and this week, I’m going to share some cool ideas from other humans.

What? I do not know everything? Gasp!!!!

boy wearing gray vest and pink dress shirt holding book
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Sadly, I do not. For instance today I wrote that Acadia National Park has a million visitors. It has four million. Did I know this? Yes. Did I write it? No.

Did someone tell me immediately?

Yep.

Thanks to that person for letting me fix my mistake.

dog biting Thank You mail paper
Photo by Howie R on Unsplash

The thing is I am really human and that means I try to juggle a lot of things and sometimes I make errors. I try to tell myself that this is okay. That in a billion years (or 100) nobody will remember me or my errors. Usually that works. But not today.

But all of this just means:

1.     I don’t trust myself today.

2.     You get to read curated advice from cooler people instead. That’s a win!

Here, this first is from MasterClass. It’s kind of beautiful and pretty concise like art that you get off Ballard Designs.

white pillar candle on white table
Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

3 Tips for Creating Mood for Your Story via MasterClass (these three tips are all a direct quote):

  1. Use a holistic approach to mood. Since mood is made up of a combination of setting, tone, word choice, and theme, it’s important that you as a writer think about all four while you work. If you try to use only one of these tools, you’re severely limiting your ability to create a believable and pervasive mood for your story. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least three of these tools to establish your mood.
  2. Brainstorm mood words. If you’re drawing a blank when it comes to how to create a particular mood, it can help to brainstorm a list of mood words. For instance, if you know you want your story to have a creepy mood, then try making a list of different words that feel creepy to you, like these: gloomy, creak, tiptoe, moonlight, skittering, shadow, rattling. Once you’ve got a good list, pick a few of your favorites and include them in the scene.
  3. Subvert expectations. While it’s easy to go with the “expected” mood for your stories (for instance, that a story about a wedding will have a lighthearted, celebratory mood), remember that it’s not always the best choice. When you push yourself to subvert readers’ expectations, you can come up with creative and exciting combinations—for example, a wedding story with a foreboding mood, or a ghost story with a funny mood. Innovating with mood can help you create memorable, lasting writing.”

Let’s dive a tiny bit deeper into that first tip. Do I trust myself enough for that? Um, not really. Here goes anyway.

Setting is where the story is located or “set.” Set = setting, so clever a language English is.

Tone isn’t about the reader. Mood is. Tone is about the narrator and the attitude they are putting down about the events.

Word choice is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the words that you the author put on the page. Short words can make things staccato. Long words can make things mellifluous. Swear words can make things tense, emphatic or even humorous.

Theme. That’s what the story is about and what it’s trying to convey. A story that true love exists and that it will save the world and all the cavorting hamsters within it? That’s going to be part of the mood and atmosphere of the story.

So, when MasterClass is talking about how these elements work (in tip #1), the MasterClass staff authors of that blog post is just saying to weave it all together and make it create that atmosphere.


LINK TO LEARN MORE:

Eight types of drunkards and law-breaking Santa clauses a scene in the UK

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Eight types of drunkards and law-breaking Santa clauses a scene in the UK
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Since it’s the time of holidays for many religions, we thought it would be a great time to talk about the ancient types of drunk-foolery from the 1500s and how they still exist today.

And, a random story about a sleigh-riding Santa.

There’s a great post on Medium from back in November by Jack Shepherd one of Buzzfeed’s former directors. I know nothing about Jack Shepherd but he has a post “These Are the 8 Types of Drunk, According to the 16th Century” and since NYE is coming up, I wanted to have a podcast about it.

All of Shepherd’s list comes from Thomas Nashe wrote a pamphlet called “Pierce Penniless: His Supplication to the Devil.” Nashe was on this Earth in the late 1500s and he was a silly man.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Don’t wait to be drunk to tell people you love them. Embrace who you are without the intoxicating liquors, human.

Judging you.

Links We Reference:

https://nypost.com/2022/12/14/sleigh-riding-santa-claus-ticketed-by-grinch-cop-petty-to-say-the-least/

SHOUT OUT!

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.

WE HAVE EXTRA CONTENT ALL ABOUT LIVING HAPPY OVER HERE! It’s pretty awesome.

AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.

Carrie is reading one of her poems every week on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!

Cause and Effect in Novel Writing

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Cause and Effect in Novel Writing
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Last week, I took a little break because of the holiday in the U.S., but this week, we’re talking about cause and effect in fiction novels.

Troubleshooting Your Novel by Steven James has a big section about this:

He suggests asking yourself these questions to fine-tune your story.

  • “Do realizations or insights occur after the event that caused them (as would naturally happen), or do I have things in the wrong order?
  • “Does this scene move from cause to effect? If not, why not? Can I tweak the story to show the natural flow of events rather than stop after they’ve happened to explain why they did?
  • “Does context dictate that I reverse the order to effect to cause? Rendering the story this way will force readers to ask, “Why?” Do I want them to do so at this moment in the book? Would lack of clarity about the character’s intention help readers engage with the story at this point? If it won’t, how can I recast it?
  • “What will I do to ensure that each ball rolls naturally away from the one that just hit it, both in action sequences and in dialogue?”

And for a quicker fix, he suggests:

“Analyze every scene, as well as every paragraph, to weed out cause-and-effect problems. Pinpoint the connections between events. Does each action have an appropriate consequence? Does the emotional resonance of a scene fit in congruently from the actions within that scene?”


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.

LINKS TO LEARN MORE FROM THE SOURCES

https://www.writersdigest.com/there-are-no-rules/cause-effect-telling-story-right-order

GHOSTING – BE BRAVE FRIDAY

I took the first part of a painting class and as everyone was putting up their paintings, I ghosted out. Seriously, I snatched my painting off the easel and ran out, while these other people who had time and talent to take two hours out of their afternoon made friends and connections as they looked at each other’s works in progress.

Brave?

Not one bit.

Apparently, I have a lot of work left to do.

At first I pretended to myself that the reason I rushed off was because the painting was such a mess—chaotic colors—dry brushes—clashes and strokes that made no sense—and then I admitted about one mile onto the Crooked Road that it was because I was such a clashing, chaotic mess. Not the painting. Me.

I was such a mess that I called Shaun and told him what I’d done.

“Are you going to go back next Tuesday?” he asked.

“Of course not. I ghosted out.” My hands tightened around the steering wheel. “I told them how my sweet mom said I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body and I wanted to prove her wrong. I was so vulnerable. Nobody else was so vulnerable. They were real artists. Rocky Mann was there!”

“He’s a potter.”

“He’s real.”

“You’re also real.”

“An art teacher was there! And another potter and—”

And then because the wireless coverage on our island sucks, I lost the connection.

When I got home and dealt with all my own editing and writing deadlines and family (dogs and cats and human) needs, and wrote stories for my local news blog, and went to a meeting, I let myself look at the painting again.

It was still an unholy mess. And I broke all the rules. It was supposed to be about color and light and looking at plants through that. My plant became some sort of geyser. A bird head in rough form snuck in. A woman, small with hands lifted to the sky stood at the bottom center.

I don’t know how she got there.

And I don’t know how I got here either. But I’m going to try to channel a little more fierce next week. Maybe go back. Maybe not turn myself into a ghost or other transparent things.

Anyway, I hope that you get where you want to be this week or next. I hope you turn yourself solid. No more ghosts.

Here is that work in progress. Or possibly “work that’s about to be painted over.” 🙂

Agh.

Eat a Frog For Breakfast And Being More Efficient

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Eat a Frog For Breakfast And Being More Efficient
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This week’s episode is all about special dog dinners and eating frogs for breakfast. So, yeah, basically time management.

Come hang out with us!

REFERENCES

https://apnews.com/article/san-francisco-restaurants-dogs-a6c1ba368023209a1bb5afd027b76742

https://liberalarts.tamu.edu/psychology/2019/09/26/what-is-time-blocking/

https://betterhumans.pub/4-unsexy-one-minute-habits-that-save-me-30-hours-every-week-5eb49e42f84e

SHOUT OUT!

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.

WE HAVE EXTRA CONTENT ALL ABOUT LIVING HAPPY OVER HERE! It’s pretty awesome.

AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.

Carrie is reading one of her poems every week on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!

I Don’t Know How To Fangirl Even About Writers and Some Advice

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
I Don't Know How To Fangirl Even About Writers and Some Advice
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Here’s a big truth. I don’t know how to fangirl, and one time I was taking photos in Maine for the Maine Democratic Party at a house rented by famous writers and all my writer friends got excited.

They squeed.

They were super thrilled.

My own book had just made the NYT bestseller’s list, but it was kids fiction and really really far from literary fiction. For the circles of intellectuals, it didn’t give me a lot of cred.


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.

Not So Wild and Crazy Writing Advice

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Not So Wild and Crazy Writing Advice
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Steve Martin had a catch phrase from his time on SNL and standup that he was a wild and crazy guy. He had an entirely different persona in the skit but you could feel it and tell he’d been inspired by something in real life and turned it into comedy through exaggeration.

Now, decades after that Wild and Crazy Guy skit, Martin has this masterclass and in it he says, “Everything you see, hear, experience is usable.”

He’s mostly talking about comedy, screenplays and skits, but it works for the other arts and writing other genres, too.

How people go about scratching their nose, trying not to pick at their wedgie, argue with their kids; how they greet someone at a school board meeting, or even your own observations like the feel of bad indoor-outdoor carpet under your butt, the way this particular headache throbs like an almost perceptible bass beat coming from a car down the street, right at your left temple and the base of your neck—all of it can be used in your story.

Martin suggests being “an active observer in life” which to him means always being “on the lookout.” And he says you should grab a notebook that fits in your back pocket to write down what you observe. He forgets apparently that women’s pants often don’t have pockets? And also about the notes app on your phone. But it’s still good advice. Write what you see and taste and fear and feel.

This advice isn’t new. Richard Powers, who wrote The Overstory, which won a Pulitzer has said this. Powers says, “Be present, practice attention, and the story you are working on will feed on everything in front of you.”

Writers need to be mindful not in the power of positive psychology sort of way, but just in a way of being fully present so that we can notice what’s going on around us and within us.

Maya Angelou says:

“I try to pull the language in to such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics – New York critics as a rule – who say, Well, Maya Angelou has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer. Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.”

Angelou

To understand language that sings, you have to understand the sounds of language, observe and pay attention to the details of conversations around you, how people choose different words for arguments than they do when talking about their day or asking for some water. Paying attention to the language on the page means paying attention to the sound of language in the air and using it.

Martin. Powers. Angelou. They all have and had it together. They know that writing is observing and translating, being present and recreating sharpness on the page and on the tongue.


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.

Oh Baby, Look at that Backstory and Goals

Without knowing the backstory, we wouldn’t know the emotional goals of the character, the why for their tangible goals. Instead we’d be reading and thinking, yeah, he wants this. So what?

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Oh Baby, Look at that Backstory and Goals
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Last week on the podcast and over on our substack, we talked about creating amazing characters and the role of backstory.

I’m going to talk a little bit more about that today.


Again, backstory is the events that happened to your character before the actual main story starts.

So backstory, once you have it, allows you to give your character goals in the beginning of the novel and throughout the novel because it allows you the writer (and reader) to know what forces and history make that character who they are today and drive them.

The Two Goals (Thanks to Backstory) Which Gives Your Character Dimension

One goal is usually physical or tangible. They want something. Let’s say they want to drive a car. They are 15 and want to learn how to drive. That’s a tangible goal. The author wants to get her novel done. The puppy wants a bacon treat.

The other goal is usually emotional. This goal has to do with yearning. This goal is the reason for the tangible goal.

They want to learn how to drive (tangible) because they yearn to get out of their claustrophobic home (emotional).

She wants to get her novel done (tangible) because her brother always said she couldn’t get anything done because she’s lazy and she yearns to prove him wrong (emotional).

The puppy wants a bacon treat (tangible) because he yearns for bacon because that’s what he used to get in his first house before he got lost (emotional).

Without knowing the backstory, we wouldn’t know the emotional goals of the character, the why for their tangible goals. Instead we’d be reading and thinking, yeah, he wants to finish the novel. So what?

Tomorrow over on LIVING HAPPY, I’ll dive in a tiny bit more into this.


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.

Writing Exceptional Characters Part One Backstory

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Writing Exceptional Characters Part One Backstory
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Hey! Join us this week as we talk about writing exceptional characters starting with backstory! It’s quick. It’ll make you a better author. It’s free. 🙂

My poor rescue dogs have pretty rough backstories.

In between starting a new business, a new true-crime podcast, and local news blog, and editing other people’s stories, I’ve actually started my own new book that I’m pretty excited about, but when I was rereading my first chapter, I realized that so far I’d been failing terribly when it came to making my main character.

I-the -writer loved her, but the me that’s an editor? Yeah. I knew we had some work to do.

Thankfully there is a lot of good ideas and advice out there about how to make a character that’s a rock star, a character that people remember and want to hang out with for 50,000 to 100,000 words.

And my character’s big issue?

She had no past. I was so focused on the adventures she was about to have that I didn’t mention that she’d ever existed beyond that first paragraph of the story.

Backstory is a tricky thing because we don’t want it to weigh down the forward motion of the present narrative, right? But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t sprinkle it in and give readers (and ourselves) an understanding of how the character is the way they are now in the book.

The best kind of backstory is one that allows readers to worry or care about them. Think about Harry Potter. He’s abused, unloved, neglected, but still pretty kind. A good majority of the horrors that have happened to him at the hands of his relative happened before the main thrust of the story.

It doesn’t need to be that drastic or dramatic. You do not have to put your characters in cupboards.

In my story’s first pages, the dad and daughter are about to head to Iceland for her senior year because he allegedly has a new job there. The character wants to be a cook. She has a boyfriend. It’s her senior year. That’s all quickly established in my revision as she’s packing their car and sees something nefarious lurking at the edge of the woods. Then her dad gives a little bit of a kicker when he says to her, “You’ve never liked change.”

It hints at the backstory. Obviously there has been a time before where something changed and it didn’t go well.

It also hints at the theme: Change happens. Nothing is forever.

And it also hints at her big lie that she believes about the world: Change is bad.

All those things happen in one tiny bit of dialogue, but also, that one tiny bit of dialogue lets us know that the characters have a shared past. Pretty cool, right?

There’ll be more on my LIVING HAPPY blog tomorrow about this, but if you don’t go check that out, please just remember that you don’t want EVERY SINGLE THING THAT EVER HAPPENED EVER to be revealed in the first ten pages. That bogs the story down. Sprinkle it in like your story is stew that needs just a touch of salt. You’ve got this.


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.

Desire vs danger, it’s what your story is about

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Desire vs danger, it's what your story is about
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Dwight Swain has a book, The Techniques of a Selling Writer, and there’s a chapter (well many) that talk about story structure, but one specifically begins like this:

“All stories are ‘about’ the same thing: desire versus danger.”

Swain

So that’s a really good place to start.

What does your character desire (or as we usually say-want)?

Our characters are either trying to get or keep something and the story happens because there is danger that might keep our little heroes from getting their goals. That danger can be huge (like being called home to an oppressive space) or small (losing peace of mind), but the reader must always feel it there.

Swain says there are five basic elements to all commercially successful stories (and some of them want me to say, ‘Duh, obviously.’ Still, it’s good to look at them) and I’m going to lay those out here.

  • Character
  • Situation
  • Objective
  • Opponent
  • Disaster

Let’s go a tiny bit more in depth, okay?

Character – This is the protagonist. The protagonist must want things. Things have to affect her. She must react to things outside herself. She must oppose the dangers that go against her wants/desires.

Situation – So this is world around the character or as Swain says, “No focal character exists in a vacuum. He operates against a backdrop of trouble that forces him to act. That backdrop, that external state of affairs, is your story situation.”

Objective—So this is what your main character wants. If she doesn’t want anything, there is no story. If she doesn’t want anything, there is nothing for her to fight for and fight against.

Opponent—This is what fights against your character’s wants. The better the opponent, the better the story. Swain writes, “Obstacles personified in a person—who not only resists but fights back—make for more exciting reading.”

Disaster – This is the climax right, the SCARIEST MOST HORRIBLE THING HAS HAPPENED. Your protagonists is in a cage, damn it, starving, cold, on display. It’s always near the end of the story.

Swain suggests writing two sentences to collate all that for your story.

“Sentence 1 is a statement. It establishes character, situation, and objective.

Sentence 2 is a question. It nails down opponent and disaster.”

Swain

Here’s a try.

A local fire fighter in a conservative and sexist department wants a promotion. Will she be able to snag the captain spot that the chief doesn’t want to give her because she’s already too “weird” when she’s suddenly confronted by the magical nature of her family and the monsters they attract.

So, the reader will wonder:

Will they defeat the bad guy, deal with their inner issues and danger, and be happy/succeed in getting their want?

So, will she deal with the chief and the monsters, allow her inner weirdness to shine and get the damn promotion?

A positive character arc the answer is a yes.

A negative character arc the answer is a no.

Most static arcs are also yeses, the character just doesn’t grow.

You want the conflict in there because the conflict tells the reader that there is emotion going on in the story. And that, my friends, is what the story needs.


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.

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