Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Creating Mood Through Writing

We all know that creating a feel for each story in the reader is key to evoking emotion in them.  Readers have to be as caught up in the tale as the main character, and that's hard to do in prose.  On screen, directors can create emotional involvement through lighting, music, character body language, and a whole host of other things that all but shout, "THIS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD FEEL SCARED/LOVEY DOVEY/ANGRY!"

As writers, however, we don't have that luxury, and doing so with words alone is very hard.  I've adopted several things throughout my works that are designed to elicit a certain response from the audience in order to draw them into the story.  Please don't overdo any of these techniques, but when used sparingly, they can have quite an impact.

1.  Italics.
Basic.  Easy.  Writers have been using italics for ages to make sure the reader knows that something is different about a portion of the story.  Maybe one of the characters is thinking about something and the italics lets you know that it's private.  Perhaps there's a dream sequence, yet another private set of thoughts, that is meant to draw you deeper into the character's psyche.  Whatever it is, the different style says, "This is special."

2.  Varying fonts.
This can get annoying very quickly.  However, if done right, it can add a great deal of dimension to a work.  I used differing fonts in both Salvation Day and Akeldama in order to paint a picture, and the font usually came from a character voicing something.  I can say something about another person just by altering their font, such as using a more guttural font to let you hear the bite in a demon's voice or a loud and boisterous font, such as Gaudy Stout, to let you know the person voicing it is making a definitive statement.  Like I said, don't do this much or it loses effect fast, but in the right spots, it can really draw people in.

3.  The one liner.
One of the oldest tricks in the books.  I don't know of a single writer who hasn't used this.  It comes out when you're writing a paragraph of a few lines.  You draw the reader into rote stuff that places that person into a mild sense of complacency about what's happening.

And then you throw up a dramatic stop.

Too much of this is emotionally exhausting, but it has to be done in certain places to push the reader into feeling what you want him or her to feel.  It screams that something big has happened, and what follows after is important, so the reader needs to pay close attention.  It's like a cliffhanger in the middle of a chapter, only the reader doesn't have to wait to find out what's happening, a payoff most enjoy if  done every once in a while.

4.  Irregular paragraph punctuation.
Stephen Kind is a master at this, as demonstrated in The Shining.  He'll stop a paragraph, sans punctuation, and move into another set of thoughts

(just to make you know that a new part of the story has taken over.  This can be quite jarring, as if the writer is sharing some deep inner secret that only you and he are privy to.  This can be used to show the difference between the persona a character presents to the world and the one that rages just under the surface, or it can show the struggles a character has that sets up suspense for how that character will react.  And King will do so)

without you even breaking stride.  In my opinion, this really set up a creepy vibe in The Shining, and it set me on the edge of my seat, especially when I was reading it at night.

5.  Single sentence paragraphs that trickle down an entire page.
Sometimes a writer needs the reader to understand something.

That something is that time is never constant.

When we get into a rhythm, we barely notice its passage.

But when the writer wants the reader to get a feeling of slowing down, this can be useful.

And it makes time go on and on and on...

I used this in Akeldama.  There's a scene where the main character is tied up in an enemy stronghold and stewing in his own thoughts over a traumatic event.  The passage of time as it crept along was vital to letting the audience know just how slowly it was going.  This technique is designed to create the feel we've all had that time has nearly stopped.

6.  All caps.

Again, use this for effect only.  We've all had people in our lives - bosses, coworkers, parents - that yelled a lot, and when that person continually did so, it lost effect.  A few bosses of mine were such screamers that I never knew when to take them super-seriously and when to just write them off as "that's the way they are."  Yelling like this makes an impression when done rarely, for people sit up and take notice.  Most know that the person wouldn't be yelling if it wasn't important.

These are but a few techniques to create mood, and they're by far not an exhaustive list.  Please please please remember that these are intended to add to the story and must be used sparingly, for if they become omnipresent, they lose effect and just annoy people.  And annoyed people rarely stick around to buy more of your books...or even finish the one they're reading right now.

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