Moody and Broody

Here on the prairie, spring weather has been wild and crazy–much as usual. Fierce winds have buffeted us day and night lately. Last night, the wind blew around the corners of my house and tossed the newly leafed shrubbery and trees. Something–probably the iron structure supporting the bird feeder that’s slowly listing to one side like the leaning tower of Pisa–was creaking outdoors. The jolly string of wooden Easter eggs on my front door clacked steadily against the glass storm door. Night noises all around, never dying away for the stillness of sleep and tranquility. Things going bump in the night.

At one point I looked out the back door, and saw a full moon halfway above a thick bank of clouds to the east. It was an odd sight, very eerie, and seeing the moon like that immediately sparked inspiration. My imagination danced. What if? What if?

So … do you consider mood and atmosphere when you write fiction? When you’re devising your setting, do you incorporate ambiance?

In making setting vivid to readers, the atmosphere is important. After all, it’s hard to maintain a tense, suspenseful tone if you’re describing bright pastel colors and teddy bears and the cheerful sounds of children’s laughter.

You shade reader perception through the tone you adopt and maintain. You affect reader emotions, and stir reader imagination, through the diction of your story. What is diction? The words you choose to use. It’s all about vocabulary and making it work for you.

Consider the following words that have similar meanings but different connotations:

dim ………………………………..gloomy

large ………………………………cavernous

teeth ………………………………fangs

reddish …………………………..bloody

pointed leaves …………………spiky leaves

shy …………………………………withdrawn

Or these:

dim ……………………………….candlelit

large ……………………………..spacious

teeth …………………………….gleaming smile

reddish …………………………vermillion

pointed leaves ……………….palm fronds

shy ………………………………hesitant

Shading your diction or word choice to fit your story setting and its genre is also known as writing in coded language. Readers of certain genres expect writers to employ a vocabulary that suits the genre. Such word choices in turn connote more to avid readers of that genre than they might otherwise to a more casual audience.

Accordingly, romance readers expect settings to be described in ways that evoke the physical senses, are attractive or possibly glamorous, and convey a romantic atmosphere.

Thriller/mystery/horror readers expect settings to hold a sense of danger and to be edgy. Therefore, a poorly lit room might seem romantic in one genre but a dangerous trap in another.

Fantasy readers expect settings to be magical, unusual, exotic, and surprising.

Writers who take the time to enhance their stories with coded imagery–to set the mood appropriate to their plot, location, situation, and scene–add considerably to the overall effect. Consider the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. They ooze dank despair. Consider the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling which enchant and charm on every page. Consider the romantic story The Wedding Dress by Virginia Ellis, in which three sisters distract themselves from the bleak economic hardships immediately following the Civil War by hand-sewing a wedding dress, hoping with every button and every stitch that once the gown is completed a bridegroom will appear for at least one of them.

Now of course, there are some writers who want to play against type. They want to contrast the bright, cheery nursery with a grim crime scene down the hall in the master bedroom. They want to show an empty crib, a dropped teddy bear, and the bloody handprints on the wall going down the stairs. Such writers aren’t ignoring atmosphere or coded language. They are instead making it work for them in a different way, to surprise and stress readers deliberately. Such contrasts create atmosphere effectively.

Whether you set up straightforward mood or go for a contrast, be aware of your setting and make it work harder for your story’s success.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Moody and Broody

  1. LauranceS

    I use a thesaurus for character emotions. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi.
    Any suggestions for the weather and atmosphere?

    Thanks
    Laurance S
    .

  2. LauranceS

    I have had Dean Koontz’s “Lightning” in my Audible wish list for quite a while. I think it will be my next purchase. Thanks
    Laurance S

    • Lightning is quite a story. I particularly like Koontz’s usage of cross-cutting in the climax. Can’t say anything more without giving plot twists away.
      🙂 Deb

      • Laurance S

        I have a tangential question derived from some very tangential thinking listed below.

        • Deb is writing about atmosphere.
        • Deb lives in Oklahoma.
        • Every spring the gods sends tornadoes to Oklahoma to destroy all the mobile homes.
        • The gods either hates homes with wheels or has invested heavily in mobile home manufacturers.
        • A shaman war could be waged using storms.
        • The Southern Plains could be the setting for a war between the good northern Indians aka: Anasazi, Apache etc. versus the evil canabalistic human sacrificing Aztecs.
        • The timeframe could be around 1000 AD, pre-Columbian.
        • Problems with this idea, no horses, no metals and no wheels.

        Has anyone ever set a fantasy series in pre-Columbian North America with all the characters being Native Americans?

      • Interesting premise. I can’t answer that question. I don’t think so, but has anyone come across anything like this?
        🙂

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