Mood, or atmosphere, is the general feeling a reader experiences as they read a piece of literature. It’s both a tangible feeling and a constant intangible presence that powers a work’s affective properties.
The mood creates an emotional response in the audience and allows for greater understanding of what the author is saying. It may be relaxed and happy if a sunny beach is described, or tense and fearful if a character is running from something in the dark. It might also change at different times throughout a story but it’s always there.
The mood is the aura created by many sentences. It exists nowhere on the page. It exists everywhere around the page.” – Paul Shapiro
Just as a person can’t speak without their voice betraying what kind of mood they’re in, a writer can’t write without creating some type of mood. If the mood isn’t established properly, the meaning of a piece will be misconstrued and become confusing. The audience won’t be emotionally activated nor able to connect to the material.
Consider the following vital elements of constructing mood in your next piece of writing.
Diction is the choice of words and how the author decides to express them. Choosing what words to use in different situations is integral to creating mood. For example if the author wants to create a foreboding atmosphere, they wouldn’t say ‘the clouds were light and puffy’, they would say ‘the clouds were dark and heavy’.
Author Christopher Moore had this to say:
When I was writing ‘You Suck,’ in 2006, I constructed the diction of the book’s narrator, perky Goth girl Abby Normal, from what I read on Goth blog sites.”
Thus he was able to find the correct words to use for his character and establish the mood he wanted.
Setting is where a story or scene takes place and can significantly affect the mood of a piece. The time of day, season, weather, and physical location can all influence the emotions of the reader. Something as simple as changing a scene from day-time to night-time can change the mood, turning it from relatively safe to frightening.
For example, an empty warehouse or a side alley in a street. The importance of setting and imagery also comes into play here. The warehouse may have broken windows or hanging rafters. The alley might be littered with debris. All these details will induce different emotional reactions, altering the mood.
Imagery also comes into play. The broken windows or hanging rafters of the warehouse communicate abandonment and isolation. The alley might be littered with debris to convey the presence of people and danger. All these details will induce different emotional reactions by changing the mood.
Consider this excerpt from Stephen King’s recent novel Revival as an example of evocative imagery:
On our right was an old cabin with a mossy, sagging roof and crashed-out windows. Graffiti, most of it too faded to be legible, danced in tangles across the gray, paintless sides. Ahead and above us was a great bulging forehead of granite. At the summit, just as Jacobs had told me half my life ago, was an iron pole jutting toward the clouds, which were now black and seemingly low enough to touch.
Tone can sometimes be confused with mood, but they’re not one and the same. Tone is more about the author’s attitude towards certain events or situations and how he/she wants to express them.
For example, the tone might be suspenseful because the author holds back particular information from the reader. The tone is articulated through the thoughts, words, and actions of the characters and is a large contributing factor on the mood, rather than being a synonym for it.
Theme and mood have a very close relationship as they often reinforce each other. Identifying the theme, the overall meaning of a poem or story, will go a long way to recognising the mood of the piece. Conversely, ascertaining the mood of the writing will help a reader understand the meaning of the work.
For example, if the theme of a poem is suicide, the mood will be dark, sad, and lonely. Or, if the mood seems joyful and celebratory, the theme might be based on the subject of marriage. Picking up on one of these elements will invariably lead to the other because they are complimentary.
Delve into a deeper discussion of theme through examining motifs.
Always remember mood is one of the most important and powerful tools writers have at their disposal, so it’s important to pay close attention to it. Find other writers who are good at it and study their work. One author who comes straight to mind, when thinking of mood, is horror writer Stephen King who is master at unsettling the reader and playing on their emotions. For further inspiration, explore even more great examples of mood employed in literature.