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Every writer aims to create an immersive experience that resonates with their reader. A crucial aspect of that is establishing the right mood or atmosphere. Mood can help create the setting of your story and give it a depth that makes it feel more alive. So, what exactly is mood and how do you build it?

Understanding Mood and Atmosphere

Mood, or atmosphere, is the feeling a writer wants to convey – joy, anxiety, contentment, annoyance. It breathes life into the characters, strengthens the setting, and reinforces a story’s theme. Mood often acts as a lens through which the reader interprets events and actions. 

This is separate from the tone, which is the attitude of the narrator. A story can have different moods and tones. For example, a book could have a serious or even scary mood but have a funny tone. 

Experimenting with moods and tones can add a new dimension to a novel. It can heighten tension, give a comedic edge, or create mystery.

Building Atmosphere

Use Sensory Details

To tap into the reader’s emotions, try to create a scene that engages all their senses. When looking at a scene, identify which of the five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, taste – is most important in it. Focus on that sense when describing what’s happening to evoke the mood you want. Talk about the rustling of leaves, the startling rush of cold water in a hot bath, or the sour taste of a rotten grape. Paint pictures of experiences using tiny details.

Hold On To Inspiration

While writing, find inspiration for the mood you want to convey and hold onto it. Think of a word or image and keep it in your mind. You can also leave notes about mood and return to them while you’re in that mood (ex: writing while you’re angry to make a character believably angry) or recreate a scene or memory in real-life to feel it while writing.

Platforms like Pinterest or Spotify allow you to create mood boards and playlists to look at and listen to while you write. These can be a constant source of inspiration for different moods, which you can easily edit or save for another time.

Focus On Language, But Limit Imagery

Carefully consider word choice. For each scene, as yourself if the words you’re using match the mood you’re trying to set. If you’re writing a chase scene, use short and abrupt words with harsh sounds. If you’re writing a dark mood, use negative words.

Small details using the senses can add to this. Use words to describe the texture of furniture, the feeling of a piece of fabric, the sound of something in the distance or closeby. 

While you do this, experience with sentence, paragraph, and chapter lengths. These affect the atmosphere and pacing of the story. For example, sentence fragments can help create a quick pace and tense mood for an action sequence while longer, flowing sentences can create a sense of peace.

Be careful not to overdo it. Write about necessary details and refrain from too many metaphors. They can be redundant, complex, and distracting. Choose one to three themes to use as metaphors and refer to them subtly throughout the story.

The Importance of Setting

Setting is a powerful tool you can use to establish a mood. A sunny day can mean happiness while a rainy day sorrow or depression. But don’t limit your setting to just that. How you detail it can shape the mood it creates.

A forest can be whimsical in the morning light but frightening at night. A happy, sunny day can easily become foreboding if you describe the burning touch of the sun’s rays, cracked land, and shriveled plants. 

Characters and Dialogue

Don’t forget your characters. How you describe them can help shape what the reader feels, as long as an emotional connection has been established. Are they shaky? Jumpy? Have they stopped to think about something or are they running to tell someone happy news?  How they feel and act in a situation can add more layers to the mood already created through setting. 

Tackle It Later

Don’t get overwhelmed. Establishing mood can be really hard. First drafts aren’t about perfection; they’re about potential. If capturing the exact mood feels too diffcult, let the story flow and add in details about mood in the revisions stage.

Crafting the perfect atmosphere or mood in a story is an art that requires thoughtful consideration of various elements. By understanding what mood and atmosphere are, utilizing sensory details, focusing on language, considering setting and tone, and reflecting mood through characters and dialogue, writers can create a rich and resonant emotional landscape.