July 13, 2012

Creating Mood

Beneath a sky bruised with black and purple clouds, a woman limped down an alley. The pavement was slick with slime. Broken bottles and crushed beer cans littered the ground. Every now and then, she stepped over a used syringe. 
The air in the alley carried the stench of stale alcohol with a pleasant splash of raw vomit and human piss. Graffiti marked the walls; there were gang signs spray-painted in blood red, vulgar words scribbled in anger, and pornographic drawings.  
The further down she went she realized why the alley was known as The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Several ratty-clothed individuals ambled about lifelessly. Their skin was as gray and pasty as the skin of a corpse, their eyes were dark hallows, their lips were cracked and bleeding, and their bones stuck out of their deprived bodies. They looked as if they belonged in graves. Moans and sobs from lost souls bounced off the crumbling brick walls—souls dying one hit at a time. She was passing one of them when he jumped in front of her and grabbed her shoulders.

Mood is the atmosphere created by the setting of a story and actions of the characters in it. In the excerpt above, I depict a dangerous alley where low lives go to drink and do drugs. The mood is dark and mysterious, because I do not introduce or reveal the woman’s identity.

Mood also relates to how a reader emotionally responds to the setting and the action of characters. One example for how a reader can emotionally respond to mood would be while reading the passage in A Child Called It when the boy is cleaning the infected, puss-filled stab wound on his side. Reading that would make any reader grimace in pain, feel disgust at the ordeal this child had to go through, and even nauseous.

To create mood, depict vivid settings, give detail to the actions of your characters, and use emotion. You can do this with force like in Dave Pelzer’s book or subtly by describing a summer afternoon that makes your readers recall the dry, sweltering days from their youth when they would float in a lukewarm pool to stay cool. The mood for such a writing could be happy, leisurely, and nostalgic.

QUESTION: Has a book ever made you respond emotionally?

When I was reading Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells I did everything from laugh until I couldn’t breathe to crying with my face buried in a pillow.

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