How to Create Mood or Atmosphere in a Story?

Doesn’t a good story transport you effortlessly to its fictional realm? Can you see events and scenes happening right in front of your eyes? Do you get goosebumps or feel your heart soaring after reading the words on the page? Do you wonder how authors make that happen? The answer lies in creating the right mood or atmosphere for a story.

Let’s consider the following example to have a better understanding of how to create mood in a story:

Hesitatingly, Mike stepped into the hallway, its cavernous mouth threatening to swallow all semblance of happiness and hope. Silence filled Mike’s ears like water gushing into a void: not even a creak of a chair or the hum of any machinery to reveal his location and put him out of his misery. The only sound that thundered in his ears were the sounds of his heartbeat, each one echoing against his chest cavity and sending shudders through his body till he felt like his nerves had taken over and were making deep gashes on his skin with a sharp needle. The thudding against his chest began to grow in pace, and his heart was now threatening to get out of his body, to make an escape from the room. To keep his legs from following suit, he bent his knees and collapsed on to the ground. He knew it would be pointless; any escape was seemingly impossible.

Can you guess the mood of the story in the above example? Suspense? Horror? Let’s look at the obvious giveaways that make the example a horror genre:

  • Feelings evoked in the character: not knowing where he is, feeling trapped, no way of escape. Mike’s loss of control over his body further aggravates his situation. 
  • Setting: Where is the story taking place? Has the author provided any answers? If so, are they elaborate or are they frugal in nature? In a horror genre, the less one reveals, the more intense the atmosphere becomes. What do we know about the setting in the example? It’s a hallway. The entry looks like the mouth of a cave with no return. That’s all. We don’t know where, and we don’t know how Mike got there. 
  • What sounds does Mike hear? Nothing. But he wishes for some sound for answers. Sensory words are very important to creating the mood. Sounds in a setting or their lack make the reader experience what the characters are experiencing. 
  • Obvious word usage like cavernous, void, shudders, threatening, gashes, creak, thudding, collapsed, impossible, etc.
  • Figures of speech is another technique that conveys the depth of feelings and emotion. Can you identify the metaphors, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, etc. in the example above? Silence gushes into your ears like water: now would that be a comfortable feeling? Thundering, thudding:  have you ever felt so scared that your heart was beating like a drum?  Can you see in the example how the scene is being drawn for you? Every description only increases the feeling of dread; there is no respite, no relief.
  • Internal monologue is very helpful in ascertaining the dark cloud in a person’s mind. Since some scenes may have only one character, dialogue cannot be used. So, internal monologue comes very handy. Do you notice how Mike debates in his mind in the last line? Thoughts reveal a person’s true feelings or intent. Make your characters confess using internal monologue.

When you create mood or atmosphere for your story, first think of how you would feel being in that setting. List down the things that make you feel that way. Then, picture how your body would react to it. Pen them down using interesting word choices, sensory details and figures of speech. And, that’s how you create the right mood for your story. 

Add comment