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Setting: Mood, Tone, and Atmosphere

Setting can help determine the mood and atmosphere of a story. These should vary throughout a story when the setting and other factors change.

First, a few definitions, because it’s easy to confuse these elements”

  • Mood is the emotional feel of a scene, created through specific language meant to put the reader is a specific emotional state.
  • Tone is the way the author expresses their attitude toward the setting and scene through their use of narrative devices such as description and vocabulary.
  • Atmosphere is the combination of mood and tone, and is created through the author’s specific attitude or approach to writing a scene.

Carefully consider the words you use, the tempo of your sentences, and the point of view and perspective used when writing a scene.

Description

How a setting is described can change the way both readers and characters perceive the scene and how characters interact with the setting. If the scene has a fearful element, characters will move through it more slowly and the reader will read more slowly so as not to miss anything.

Description also helps to develop the tone of a scene. Use words that match the atmosphere you are trying to create. For example, a bird who chirps creates a different feel than one who squawks or caws. Textures, smells, and lighting can also be used to create a specific mood and tone. Use all five senses to fully develop a scenes description.

<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>Tone words<a href="https://examples.yourdictionary.com/tone-examples.html&quot; target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">https://examples.yourdictionary.com/tone-examples.html</a&gt; include words like cheerful, nostalgic, melancholic, arrogant, etc. </p> Tone words include words like cheerful, nostalgic, melancholic, arrogant, etc. Mood words should go beyond expressing feelings involved in the scene and describe movements, actions, decor and more.

Description of the covered bridge in Sleepy Hollow has a much different feel than description of the Love Lock Bridge in Paris. A well-worn blanket suggests it has been used and cherished while a threadbare blanket suggests lack of funds and support.

Tempo

Match sentence tempo to what is happening in a scene. Use a quick tempo for an intense or frightening scene by writing shorter sentences, using high-impact words (single descriptors rather than multi-word descriptors), limit extraneous details not absolutely needed, stay focused on the action, and avoid long sections of dialogue.

For slower tempo scenes, focus on using longer and more fluid sentences for calm or contemplative moments. Description and internal dialogue can help slow the pace when you want the reader or character to pay particular attention to something, or to give the reader time to process the scene more fully.

Certain types of action can change the tempo of a scene as well. Fast or frantic movements create anxiety or a feeling of need. This may include things like searching for something, running, shifting, or pacing. If, however, a character in engaged in slower movements, a calmer feeling will pervade the scene. Low-tempo actions may include reading, lying on a couch, strolling, folding laundry, or cooking.

Point of View

Consider which point of view will create the right feel for a scene. First person is very immediate and can cause emotions to feel more intense and immediate. First person also puts the reader in the middle of the action or emotion as it is happening. For romances or personal stories, this ca help the reader feel they are experiencing the story with the characters and create a stronger atmosphere.

However, first person may be too much for some topics or events, such as those which may have triggering effects for some readers. First person can also be too limiting if the reader needs to know details happening around the character but not necessary within his view or awareness.

Third person provides distance and an wider view of events, but also has it’s pluses and minuses. Third person typically allows for more thorough description because the character does not necessarily have to be physically taking note of scene details in order to share them with the reader. It can also provide a buffer between the story and reader when there are difficult subjects or events. If the emotions or actions of a scene need to be close to the reader in order to set the right atmosphere, third person may provide too much distance and weaken the mood and tone.

There will, of course, be different types of scenes throughout a story that might have conflicting point of view needs. Consider the story as a whole and determine which will work best for the majority of scenes and be flexible with other scenes.

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Story Structure: Scene Position, Purpose, and POV

Where a scene is located in the story structure, what role it plays, and whos tells that section of the story are important elements in deciding how to craft a particular scene.

Positioning

Opening scenes should introduce characters, set up the story premise, and give hints at backstory. Don’t go overboard on any of these elements. Orient the reader, and fill in the details later in order to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information or names to remember.

Middle scenes should continue to introduce and work through complications, provide twists, and increase the stakes. These scenes contain the bulk of the story. They should build on each other and provide story progression. Scenes that lag or lack clear purpose should be eliminated or revised to prevent the reader getting bored.

Climactic scenes will build to a climax, and are typically toward the last third of the book. They are often shorter and use high levels or emotion and action. Be careful not to string too many climactic scenes together. This can overwhelm the reader. Give the reader a break every so often with scenes more focused on recovery, discovery, or introspection.

The tone, feel, and purpose of a scene should correspond to its place in the story.

Purpose

Every scene must have a purpose. That doesn’t mean that every scene needs action. Purposes might include advancing the plot, revealing something about the character or world, or providing information about the overall plot, highlighting change, etc.

For writers who outline, it is usually easier to make sure each scene will have a purpose before it is written. For pansters, this may be more challenging, because you don’t always know where a scene is going when you start writing it. Pansters need to revise critically to make sure there are not superfluous or meandering scenes.

The purpose should be able to be condensed into a one sentence summary. For example, This scene will show David blowing up and scaring Emily away by proving to her that he can’t control himself. If a scene doesn’t have a purpose, it likely doesn’t need to be there or need to be revised with a stronger focus on accomplishing something relevant to the story.

Point of View

It is important that a scene be told from the most impactful point of view.

This is usually the character who is most impacted by the events of the scene. If you find that emotion isn’t coming through in the scene like you wanted it to, reevaluate whose POV it’s being told from. Think about what the stakes are for each character involved and who has the most to gain or lose by the outcome of the scene.

POV is often tied to the purpose of the scene. Make sure you have a firm purpose and then evaluate who will learn the most, change the most, react more strongly, risk the most, etc.

There are exceptions, of course, often stylistic ones. If the emotional elements are so strong they may impact the reader in a negative way or be overwhelming, writing the scene from a peripheral viewpoint might be a better option. This may be the case with traumatic experiences or a particularly gruesome encounter.

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Understanding and choosing the right point of view

When we talk about point of view, what we’re really discussing is the narrative point of view, or how and by whom the story is being told. Let’s review the basics before diving deeper.

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First Person POV has two variations:

First person protagonist where the character narrates his or her own story.

First person observer where a secondary character tells the main character’s story (i.e. Watson narrating Sherlock’s Holmes cases.)

Third Person POV is not told by a character but by an invisible author and has four variations:

Third person omniscient is where an all-knowing narrator tells the story.

Third person dramatic/objective is where the narrator only tells the reader things which could be recorded by a camera or microphone (i.e. no thoughts).

Third person limited is where a narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character at a time.

Third person deep is where the story is told in the hero’s voice, rather than the author’s voice.

Second person POV is written in present tense and addresses the reader directly:

Second person POV makes the reader the protagonist. The narrator often uses detailed description, shares psychological insights, and tries to anticipate reader reactions.

This in uncommon in teen or adult fiction and is mainly used for young children’s literature.

It’s important to understand why some POVs work better for certain genres or storylines and make changes when something isn’t working. Let’s review points to consider when choosing POV.

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First Person

There are several advantages of writing in first person. It feels natural to many writers, because it’s how we speak about our world and experiences. Dealing with only one narrator’s mind can be easier than writing multiple narrators. It’s an opportunity to create a unique and distinctive internal voice. Because you’re only in one character’s mind at a time, it’s easier to “stay in character.” Readers also get to experience the story vicariously through the character more easily. There is also an opportunity to create an unreliable narrator. First person is also much more intimate than other POVs and can fully immerse a reader in a story.

There are disadvantages as well. You are limited to writing only about what the character can see, know, or hear. The narrator must be in every scene, observing and participating in the story. Minds of other characters are off limits, as is their knowledge about the story unless directly shared with the narrator in some way.

 Second Person

Advantages of this POV are limited. You can create a different feel to a story, and can speak to the reader directly.

The disadvantages are more prevalent, partly because this “uniqueness” often doesn’t sit well with readers and feels too personal. It often gives a juvenile feel to a story.

 Third Person Omniscient

Advantages of this POV include being able write the story as an onlooker watching the full story unfold. You can also add contrasting viewpoints with other characters (NO head hopping, though!). This can give a reprieve to the reader and allow them to see another side of the story. You can expand the scope of the story by moving between settings and viewpoints. You aren’t limited to characters in the story when choosing a narrator, which can provide a unique perspective. This POV also allows the narrator to share his or her own views, but should NEVER slip into second person to do so.

Disadvantages center around the confusion this POV can create when not done with attention to detail. If narrators don’t have a distinct voice, readers may be confused on who is narrating. Switching to other characters can diffuse the tension or excitement when not planned well. It’s also easy to write as the author instead of the narrator. This POV can be more difficult to forge a connection with readers if it comes off as too distant or impersonal.

Third Person Limited

This POV attempts to combine the best of first and third person omniscient. The limited POV allows you to more deeply explore the narrator and forge a stronger connection with the reader without asking them to live out a story with the narrator.

For disadvantages, this POV does limit you to choosing a character as a narrator and limits you to the narrator’s thoughts and experiences.

The distance third person creates between the story and the reader can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the story. Some stories may be too raw or personal and distance is needed to allow the reader to remain at a certain comfort level. However, if in order to fully understand or experience a story, the reader needs to be enveloped in it, the distance of third person may prevent that.

 Third Person Deep

The biggest advantage of the deep perspective is that is attempts to remove distance between narrator and reader. The reader can experience more fully what the narrator is thinking and feeling. It feels more like third person to a reader, but uses third person pronouns, which can be important in following genre conventions.

The main disadvantage is that this is a challenging POV to write and is still gaining traction in some genres.

Consider the last book you read and how it would have changed if written from a different POV.

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