How to Use Word Choice to Set the Mood of Your Story

word choiceDo you pay attention to mood in your writing? If not, you should!

It’s a subtle and very powerful tool for writers. And not something you want to overlook! By setting the mood of a scene, you can manipulate how you want the reader to feel. It’s like the Jedi mind trick of writing. Pretty cool, huh?

So just how can a writer take advantage of this awesome power? There are several techniques you can use. Let’s get started!

What is Mood?

When you hear “mood” you might be confused or intimated and think it’s some vague literary term. Maybe your English teach forced you to analyze the mood of different novels in the past and you’re now wary of the word. But don’t panic–it’s really simple. Here’s the definition of mood from Dictionary.com:

A state or quality of feeling at a particular time.

When applied to your story, mood means what a certain scene makes a reader feel. The mood of your story should be directed by the feelings of your characters.

Mood Comes from Character

Before you set the mood for your story, reflect on how your character is feeling. What are his thoughts or feelings about this place or moment? Is he awed, frightened, curious, or sad? Sure you could select any mood at random for your scene, but that’s not the point.

The purpose of creating a mood for a scene is to allow the reader to experience the story as the character does. If the character is frightened then you should work to create fear in the reader.

When you don’t match characters’ feelings with the mood, it can hurt your story. If your character is lost in the wilderness and you’re describing the beauty of nature, it won’t flow as well–imagine trying to jam together two puzzle pieces that don’t fit. Your reader might wonder why the character is admiring the trees and squirrels when he’s lost in the middle of nowhere. This will also keep the reader from fully feeling the character’s panic and fear at being lost.

You should also consider your character’s personality, as different people will experience the same place in different ways. For example, for Character A a circus is exciting, but for Character B it’s terrifying, and for Character C it’s a bore. If you love the circus, don’t describe it in a positive way if your character hates it!

So basically, the reader’s feelings of a scene should be filtered through the POV character so the reader can experience the story as the character does.

Techniques for Setting Mood

There are three basic ways to create the mood for a scene: details, similes, and vocabulary choice. Let me show you a couple examples of these techniques in action.

Example #1:

The pine boughs tickled Snow White’s arms as she wandered through the forest. Robins sang and flitted from branch to branch overhead, and a rabbit scampered past. She paused to admire a Dogwood adorned in white blooms so that it looked as though its branches cradled fluffs of cloud. She plucked a blossom and stroked its petals, which were as soft as a mouse’s fur. A squirrel nestled in one of the branches peered at her from behind its bushy tail.

Example #2:

Bare branches scratched at Snow White’s arms as she stumbled through the forest, and. A raven cawed and swooped over her head, startling her. Twisted tree roots snatched at her feet like the fingers of a corpse emerging from a grave, and dragged her to the ground. The damp earth stained her blue dress like thunderclouds smudging out a summer sky. She swallowed back her tears as a wolf’s wail pierced the cold air.

These examples are pretty overdone and melodramatic, but you get the point. Both convey a specific mood, which reflects what the character is feeling and draws the reader in to share her experience.

  • Details

What does your character notice? Different people will notice different things, so it will depend on her personality. You don’t have to include every detail your character might notice. Choose specific details that will be most helpful for setting the mood you want.

In the first example to make the scene feel warm and fuzzy, I mentioned details like robins, bunnies, squirrels, and a tree in bloom. These are also details an animal-lover like Snow White would probably notice.

In the second example, I chose to describe the details of a raven, wolf, twisted tree roots, and damp dirt. These are all things a frightened Snow White might notice while struggling through a forest.

  • Similes

The second technique you can use to convey mood is similes. Comparing one thing to another can evoke emotion and give the reader a vivid picture of how the character is feeling/perceiving the scene.

In the same way you would consider what details your character might notice, consider what he/she might use as a comparison for something. For example, an art lover might express themselves through art comparisons, or a sports player might make athletic comparisons.

In the first example I compared the spring blossoms to fluffs of cloud, and the petals to a mouse’s fur. In the second, I compared tree roots to a corpse’s fingers, and the dirt staining her dress to thunderclouds blotting out a clear sky. The comparisons in each example reflect the character’s mood.

  • Vocabulary choice

The last tactic you can use is vocabulary choice. Consider what words you will include to create a specific mood and how a reader will react to them emotionally.

Notice how in the first example I used words like tickled, sang, flitted, scampered, admire, adorned, blossom, fluffs, bloom, stroked, soft, nestled, and bushy. Each of these word conveys a feeling of tranquility.

In the second example, I used bare, scratched, stumbled, swooped, startling, twisted, snatched, dragged, damp, wail, pierced, and cold. Notice how these words make you feel…not very pleasant, right?

It takes practice to become aware of and intentional with your word choice but it’s well worth the effort. Words are powerful, and you should take advantage of your word choice to manipulate how you want the reader to feel about a scene.

Do you pay attention to mood in your writing? What techniques do you use to set the mood?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

blog signature

Advertisements

Writer Beware: How Adjectives Can Weaken Your Writing

adjectives

Writers sometimes make the mistake of thinking that in order to make their writing vivid and descriptive, they must use a lot of adjectives. But adjectives can wind up doing more harm than good. Use too many and your writing may sound like, well, a

Well said, Professor McGonagall.

Ernest Hemingway was an advocate for a lean descriptive style. He believed that vivid description came from strong verbs and specific nouns, and he avoided adjectives whenever possible. Does this mean he never used adjectives? No. But when he did, he used them wisely.

So what’s so bad about adjectives?

They can detract from your description.

If you have a long string of adjectives, they will work against each other and weaken your image. Not to mention the reader will have difficulty remembering all of them. Consider:

The shaggy, wild, dark-grey wolf loped through the foggy, chilly, dark, damp, overgrown forest.

That’s a mouthful if I ever saw one. The plethora of adjectives makes the sentence long and awkward. There’s too much to take in–it’s a sensory overload. Instead of giving readers a vivid image, it just overwhelms them.

The dark-grey wolf loped through the damp forest.

Ah–much better! The sparse adjectives allow for an uncluttered, specific image. Just keep things simple! A good rule of thumb is to never us more than two adjectives together. This also brings us to our next point…

They can become unnecessary clutter.

The tiny, petite girl rode the immense, gargantuan horse.

Tiny and petite mean the same thing. It’s redundant to use both adjectives and only clutters the writing. The same with immense/gargantuan. Better:

The petite girl rode the gargantuan horse.

If you use two adjectives together, make sure they don’t mean the same thing. For example: The shy, petite girl rose the gargantuan horse.

They can tell rather than show.

Adjectives can signal lazy writing. Let’s take another look at our horse example:

The shy, petite girl rode the gargantuan horse.

Even better:

The shy, petite girl rode the Clydesdale.

“Clydesdale” is a specific noun and gives us a clearer picture than “gargantuan horse” ever could. (Those Budweiser Superbowl commercials are probably already frolicking around in your mind). Keep an eye out for opportunities to replace adjectives with a stronger word!

Finally, adjectives can tempt you to tell rather than show:

The beautiful flowers grew outside my window.

The poppies flourished outside my window, their petals the same flush of red as a girl’s cheeks beneath her sweetheart’s admiring gaze.

Yes, we can tell readers that the flowers are beautiful, as in the first example, but it is far better to let them see and feel that the flowers are beautiful. C.S. Lewis said:

 “It’s no use telling us that something was ‘mysterious’ or ‘loathsome’ or ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘voluptuous.’…By direct description, by metaphor and simile, by secretly evoking powerful associations, by offering the right stimuli to our nerves…you must bring it about that we, we readers, not you, exclaim ‘how mysterious!’ or ‘loathsome’ or whatever it is. Let me taste for myself, and you’ll have no need to tell me how I should react.”

Wise words!

camilla facceAdvice from the Quills:

Feel free to use as many adjectives as you desire in your first draft. When you edit, massacre all except the most necessary. Less is more!

Do you love or loathe adjectives?

blog signature

The Secret to Vivid Writing

Vivid Writing

You know how some writers have a way of bringing a scene to life and making it feel as though it’s real? It’s a strange enchantment. We are willing to believe anything the author says because it’s so vivid, how could it not be true?

What is this sorcery, you ask? Thankfully it’s not really magic, and it’s something you can learn too. So listen up, because I’m about to spill some valuable secrets here.

The secret to vivid writing is: specific nouns.

Um, what?

Allow me to elaborate. The more specific you are in your writing, the more vivid of an image you will create in the reader’s mind. The more vague you are, the more hazy the image will be. Specific nouns reveal more about your characters and their surroundings.

Sounds simple enough, right? It is, but it does take some practice and requires a little more thought and work. What do I mean by this?  Well, look at this sentence from a Middle-Eastern inspired fantasy story I wrote:

When night unfurled her stars, the nightjars emerged from their nests and the assassin strung his bow.

I could have just said the birds emerged from their nests–it would have been easier on my part. But I felt that the image could be stronger, so I researched nocturnal birds native to the Middle East and came across nightjars. Additionally, my character did not simply carry a sword–it was a shamshir (a curved, Persian sword).

Do you see how these little, specific details reveal more about the character’s world?  Be specific whenever you can, and be wary of using vague nouns as they can imply a lazy or inexperienced writer.

Let’s look at a few more examples. Take note of the differences in the images each sentence makes you conjure:

  • The bird sat in the tree VS. The owl perched in the pine.
  • Her garden was full of flowers VS. Roses, petunias, and dahlias crowded her garden.
  • The man got into his car VS. The lawyer slid into his black Mercedes.

Remember: specific, specific, specific!

What are some books you love where the story was brought to life through vivid details? How do you use them in your own writing?

blog signature