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5 Tips to Setting Your Story Mood

This past weekend I attended a workshop on making video trailers for fiction books. Having spent so much of my life mixing words and video in TV news and public relations, I was intrigued. I know how to put together a news story visually and features that show a story or person, but how do you make a trailer that would show visually what a book was about?  Part of it has to do with showing the mood of the story.  That got me to thinking about how to show some of that mood inside the story itself.  Here are five tips to consider as you write your story to show location, mood, and ambience. These can all make your story stronger.

1. Consider the setting. This is self explanatory.  If you're writing a dark, gothic type story setting it in an old, dark castle or house seems natural.  But what if you're writing a dark story that is set in the tropics, or on a summer vacation?  Use that setting to make the case.  For instance, that bright tropical setting can hold lots of dark, hidden secrets in either glaring sunlight or in unusual shadows in unexpected places.  A dirty alley where the heroine gets lost as she goes home from the sun drenched beach with plenty of shadows and perhaps a scary stranger can set the mood for a darker future to come.

2. Look for just the right words to set the stage for the mood. If you're setting the story in the middle of winter, go beyond just describing the cold, make the characters feel it with chilled hands, frosty breath, numb fingers, or cold rooms.  Bring the cold even into the heart of a warm house or car, and then make the characters feel that coldness from their skin to their souls.

3.  Show contrasts. Use contrasting imagery to make the shadows darker, the light spots brighter. Take the reader from one extreme to another so that when the mood shifts, the reader's mood can shift with the story. Light moments mixed with dark can shift the mood as well.  Think about the difference of a green mountainside as compared to the charred, emptiness of a burned forest.

 4. Consider sounds. Just like with mood, light and temperature, remember the sounds that can set the mood and tone of a book.  In one of my stories I'm trying to catch the feel of a summer morning. Out of nowhere I suddenly heard a video my sister made at sunrise while walking the Colorado plains. She was trying to capture the morning sunrise and did video as opposed to still shots, but when I heard the birds as the sun topped the edge of the horizon, I had what I was looking for. Describing what I heard in that video helped me craft that early morning scene.

5.  Don't be afraid to experiment.  Play with the scene and try writing it in several different ways and then see what makes it most effective. Do you write it in first person? Does it work better from a certain character's point of view? Does it make it better if you describe the scene or if you let the character give their own impression?

All these methods can work and can help you capture the setting which in turn will make each story unique.  Good luck!


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