Thursday, December 9, 2010

Using Words to Establish Mood

There's a lot to think about as you edit your work. We're covering them all here on The Blood-Red Pencil. In this case, we're re-covering them. Each of us get to choose a previous post to re-gift for the holidays. I've chosen one I posted over two years ago.

Here's something for you to consider -- your mood-establishing words.

Think of the words you use and how you string them together. Fast, choppy sentences tend to rev up the tension. Longer, complex sentences slow things down.

Is her dress blood red? Or rose red? Do the stars twinkle like 4th of July sparklers? Or blink like a million ogling eyes?

Use the senses to set the mood. Two characters on the beach begin to kiss. How do things smell, taste, feel, sound? Remember, you're establishing an atmosphere.

Does John nuzzle Allana's neck, breathing in her lilac perfume, then kiss the salty sweat at her hairline? Does he feather his fingers along her arm, drawing goose bumps?

Does John nuzzle Allana's neck, breathing in her bologna breath as she sighs, then spits hair and sand as he tries to kiss her earlobe? Does he go to caress her arm, but rams his elbow on her hair, yanking her head to one side and spilling the pitcher of ice tea across his sunburned back?

A woman has had a long, arduous day at work. She draws a bath, pours in foaming oil. She touches the bubbles as they build. They're soft, like whip cream. She steps into the tub and slides down until the bubbles tickle her chin. How does the bath smell? Cherry? What kind of cherry? Is it a cherry-Coke float? Cherry cough syrup? Cherry sour balls eaten in the darkness of the movie theater? Grandma's hot cherry pie?

Each one brings up a different image, sets a different mood.

Choose your words, your sentence construction, your details so that they set a mood. Each scene has an atmosphere.

This is not to say that if your book is meant to be humorous, then every scene must be funny. There will be an ebb and flow. You don't want your novel to be monochromatic. But all the scenes together establish the overall mood of the book. Use your words--you are a writer, after all--to create the atmosphere of your book's world.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its eleventh year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn – or catch her April 30, 2011 at Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz in Weatherford, Texas, where she and Sylvia Dickey Smith will be talking about “Jazzing Up Your Characters.”

Bookmark and Share


  1. Helen,
    This is an excellent topic, and your examples are wonderful.

  2. Very true, Lillie, and I don't need to know any more about John and Allana! LOL. But isn't it interesting that the descriptions were enough to make me remember their names? This is good writing.

    Thanks, Helen. Must go tweet about you.


  3. Just picked this up at Twitter... talk about creating a mood:

    I won't say ours was a tough school, but we had our own coroner. We wrote essays like: What I'm going to be if I grow up. Lenny Bruce

    Definitely sets the tone, doesn't it? :D

  4. Dani -- I'd say Lenny knows how to put his words together to create a story. Beginning, middle, end -- with a punch.

  5. Very interesting post, Helen. Good job. And I love your example, Dani. Not only does it set a tone, it sets the character, too.

    How I love to read a book where an author has worked so hard to give the reader a spot on setting and character so simply. Much better than the lengthy descriptions and scene setting narratives we so often see.

  6. That bologna breath and sand example made me wonder if you've been following me. Excellent advice, and funny too. I love to laugh in the mornings.

  7. Good post, Helen. I can just see John spitting out the hair and sand while he's trying to be romantic. That's when Allana starts giggling.

  8. Humor must be fun to write. I don't think I could sustain it for very long, though.

  9. Great post, Helen with very useful examples. I find humour just slips into my writing, but it's not a constant diet. A constant diet of anything gets dull fairly quickly.

  10. Still good advice to remember.

    Morgan Mandel

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Great topic, Helen! The bologna breath certainly created a mental image!

  13. A lighthearted or funny book has to have pacing, just like a thriller or horror book needs pacing. And you can do that to a great extent through the mood that you set and ease up on, then glide into again.

  14. I wish we could tempt Lillie back into the fold, don't you? Where are you, Lillie?

  15. Great advice and suggestions, Helen. This is an area I need to brush up on. I've gotten kind of lazy. And there are all those words out there to use.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook