Monday, April 26, 2010

Establishing Mood

Think of the words you use and how you string them together. Fast, choppy sentences tend to rev up the tension. Longer, complex sentences slow things down.

Is her dress blood red? Or rose red? Do the stars twinkle like 4th of July sparklers? Or blink like a million ogling eyes?

Use the senses to set the mood. Two characters on the beach begin to kiss. How do things smell, taste, feel, sound? Remember, you're establishing an atmosphere.
Does John nuzzle Allana's neck, breathing in her lilac perfume, then kiss the salty sweat at her hairline? Does he feather his fingers along her arm, drawing goose bumps?
Does John nuzzle Allana's neck, breathing in her bologna breath as she sighs, then spits hair and sand as he tries to kiss her earlobe? Does he go to caress her arm, but rams his elbow on her hair, yanking her head to one side and spilling the pitcher of ice tea across his sunburned back?
A woman has had a long, arduous day at work. She draws a bath, pours in foaming oil. She touches the bubbles as they build. They're soft, like whip cream. She steps into the tub and slides down until the bubbles tickle her chin. How does the bath smell? Cherry? What kind of cherry? Is it a cherry-Coke float? Cherry cough syrup? Cherry sour balls eaten in the darkness of the movie theater? Grandma's hot cherry pie?
Each one brings up a different image, sets a different mood.

Choose your words, your sentence construction, your details so that they set a mood. Each scene has an atmosphere.

This is not to say that if your book is meant to be humorous, then every scene must be funny. There will be an ebb and flow. You don't want your novel to be monochromatic. But all the scenes together establish the overall mood of the book. Use your words--you are a writer, after all--to create the atmosphere of your book's world.

Do you have an example of how you used words to set the mood?
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25 comments:

  1. Interesting topic! I confess I tend to work by gut feeling, although I'm sure there are tried-and-true techniques for getting this right.

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  2. Excellent topic! I'm very careful about my word choice. Especially in shorter pieces, every word carries so much weight it has to be just right.

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  3. Some of this kind of work you can do in the editing phase, when you're going over your work with a fine tooth comb. That way, you're not slowing down your creative process when you're in the groove and writing fast.

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  4. Wow! you used some really good examples! I know that's an aread that needs some work for me:)

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  5. Thanks, Helen. Pacing and mood are a few things I'm struggling with right now, so this is really helpful!

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  6. Too cool! I kept expecting a killer to come up behind the woman drawing the bath.

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  7. This was great, Helen! I tend to not THINK this hard while I'm writing, but this is REALLY useful stuff for the REWRITE. I especially like the sentence length piece--I've used tricks to speed things up like summarizing an argument instead of going through it all, but I hadn't even thought about changing up sentence length--nice trick!

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  8. I only have one sex scene and alcohol set the mood. Well, actually, she was out to kill the protagonist but used sex to get intohis house. But they both went out and had drinks and danced first. Nothing too sophisticated.

    Stephen Tremp

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  9. It's interesting how many different spins can be put on the same scene, just by altering the words. The magic of those amazing words ...

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  10. That was something I learned along the way and it takes practice!

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  11. I love your examples. Amazing how the same scene setting can come out so differently.

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  12. Carol, ah you mystery writers.

    Sometimes your words flow. Sometimes you create the flow in the editing phase.

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  13. I'm loving the idea of a luxuriant bubble bath with the aroma of cherry cough syrup. This tickles my funny bone.

    Great tips here, Helen.

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  14. Love these examples, Helen. Clearly illustrate how words do create mood. Thank you.
    karen

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  15. Baloney breath conjured up a real visual. Thanks for showing how you can change things up with words.

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  16. Liza, it's still better than liver breath!

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  17. Great examples of how to set the mood with words. Loved the illustration of the two approaches to the kiss on the beach. Made the point so well.

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  18. I totally cracked u pat bologna breath :)

    Word choice is vital - and such painstaking work at times. At others, the right words just seem to flow out of my fingers :)

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  19. I recently applied for a job that demands new ideas day after day. I wrote in my cover letter: if I was a monkey, ideas would be poop, because I throw ideas around all day. I don't think that image was appealing to them...

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  20. Wonderful examples Helen. I have been putting together a list of metaphors, examples and descriptions and try to glance over those if I'm stuck with a scene to get me back on the right track.
    Ann
    Ann Summerville
    Cozy In Texas

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  21. I hope you get that job, Jenn!

    Good idea, Ann. I should do that.

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  22. I have found I need to work on my descriptions more, Helen. My colours are bland. Confidence is my weak area, I need to have more. I know I can write the stuff, it is reassuring the inner me.
    It is the feeling people will laugh at my descriptions, rather than 'experience' them.

    Interesting post.

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  23. This is excellent to remember if a scene isn't working. Asking these types of questions can help pinpoint what can heighten the mood. Lovely post.

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