Setting the Mood
Whether you are writing a short story, a novel, a poem, or a script, you need to put across the mood for each scene. The reader needs to be there with you, experiencing that setting exactly as you do in your head. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, but I find it often helps to build in layers. When I dream up a scenario I see it, I feel it, I’m there, and I want the reader to do the same.
John sat in his house.
We know practically nothing about John, other than he is sitting down in his house. Why should we care about him? There is no theme here, no sense of scene, just a man at home. Let’s give it some context.
John sat in his house, staring at the television.
Now John is doing something. It may be mundane, but at least it gives the setting a little more context. We have limited the number of rooms John could be in, unless he is one of these excessive people that have a TV in the toilet. Inserting some description, however slight, would add some depth to John, giving him some character.
John sat in his empty house, staring at the broken television.
Did the TV blow up in the middle of Murder She Wrote? Has John just woken up after a house party? Were aliens involved? Now we have some questions, and that creates a sense of intrigue for the reader. A bit more scene setting can go a long way to narrowing the field of possibilities.
John sat in his empty house, staring at the broken television. The remains of his coffee table lay destroyed on the floor, next to the pool of red wine and shattered glass.
To expand this further we can bring in the senses. Often, when I am reading other people’s work, I notice they are focusing almost entirely on the visual, other than dialogue. That is what I have done here, so far. To truly immerse the reader in the scene, to create a real experience, requires sound, smell and touch, along with sight. You can even throw taste in as well, if you need to.
John sat in his empty house, staring at the broken television, listening for the sound of the door. The remains of his coffee table lay destroyed on the floor, next to the pool of red wine and shattered glass. Sourness filled his nostrils; he could taste pennies as he rubbed his fingers over his coarse, bloodied hand.
Now we have a mood that, for every titbit of information it gives us, opens a multitude of questions that the narrative will need to address. These can remain unanswered for as long you need them to, keeping the reader engaged and immersing them further into the world you are creating. From this point I would introduce some form of action; something would happen, even if that is just John blinking. Then more layers are added as the story is unfolded, dropping further hints at what is really going on. From there, the scene will develop and grow organically; all from that first moment, the mood.
© 2016 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.