is for Mood
Mood (often called “atmosphere“) is the feeling a piece of writing evokes in the reader. This is often done through narrative tone, description and setting.
After Molly finds Stanley’s body in Phase Shift, she goes into shock:
At the foot of Stanley’s driveway. In the rain. Police offer me hot drinks and dry blankets. Refuge from the drizzle in a cruiser. They think they’re helping. Won’t help take the chill off.
Three police cars. Two fire engines. One ambulance. Yellow police tape on the property line. Surreal. Like I’m on television. A TV crime show. Waiting on the coroner. Where’s Palmer? Time passes in waves. Folds in and around itself. Inconsistent.
In this passage, the use of short sentences and sentence fragments as well as confused observations help to demonstrate the shock Molly experiences. Because the narrative has changed in this chapter, the goal is for the reader to experience Molly’s disorientation. In this case, the mood is set using narrative tone.
If the death of Stanley represents a sort of mini-climax in the story, the chapter that follows is a falling action of sorts. The chapter begins:
The rhythmic patter of the rain on the windshield has a calming effect. In spite of the fact we’re out of the weather, I can’t help but shiver. I can sense Palmer considering me, wet puppy, licking her wounds. Stanley’s dead, my mind repeats and repeats again, needle stuck in a groove. Stanley‘s dead and I killed him. Palmer wriggles out of his overcoat and then his suit jacket. He drapes the jacket over me and wriggles back into his overcoat, gifting me his woollen warmth and spicy scent.
In this chapter, a calmer, comforting mood is evoked in the patter of the rain, and the warm comfort of Palmer’s jacket. The reader should experience a respite from the tense shock of the previous scene and be lulled by a sense of security before thrown back into the fray as the climax of the novel nears.
What novels or short stories do you remember as most effective? “The Monkey’s Paw” by WW Jacobs comes to mind for me. Record your thoughts on mood and/or atmosphere in the comments below.