Stories without mood and atmosphere have an incomplete feeling. They need substance and fleshing out. The dialogue has nothing physical to play against. The characters have no arena in which to move about, and little stage business to enhance the impact of their lines.
Stories need atmosphere and mood so the audience can feel the words. Action and suspense thrive on atmosphere and mood because the reader must be involved in order to enjoy the story. You need to help the reader get involved, and creating a proper atmosphere or mood is one way to do it.
Suppose you searched for a cure to a child’s slow disintegration?
This is a suspense oriented scenario, and can be enhanced with some attention to atmosphere and mood. To heighten the suspense, the atmosphere and mood must be one of desperation and impending tragedy, growing despair and frustration.
To set up the mood and atmosphere, you could
- develop a contrast with another child who is healthy and high-spirited and a relationship where the healthy child learns more and more from the sick child.
- describe the sick child’s symptoms in detail, show the slow breakdown of the family as the child’s condition deteriorates.
- show the first signs of a cure… Only the family doesn’t recognize them.
All of these could build suspense in the story (because the final outcome is so uncertain) and do so by feeding the proper mood and atmosphere.
Physicality and Involvement
Physical description can be a springboard to atmosphere and mood. They can paint a background that will lend authenticity as well as sensitivity to what’s happening. Physical description can present an atmosphere or a mood that builds story content, and do it so well that we know it’s authentic and rivets the reader.
But physical description alone may not be enough. There must also be involvement, and sometimes that means delving into emotions and feelings, adding bits of characterization and dialogue that move matters still further. You must wrap your readers inside a cocoon of story identification, and sometimes the best way to do that is to use both physical description and emotional outreach.
Never forget, your reader wants to be entertained, so you’re already ahead of the game. The readers’ inclination is to enjoy your story. So don’t shortchange their desires, and don’t shortchange their urge for full involvement. If they think you can do better and simply don’t bother, they’ll walk away.
Use strong verbs and charged language to spur atmosphere and mood. Action sequences particularly need charged imagery. They work best when the reader is right in the middle of the scene. Make the conflict harsh and encompassing, and the action will build. Make the atmosphere vivid, and the suspense will grow, along with the intensity of the story.
And when you’re finished, the reader will be eager for more.