This week: Setting the MoodEdited by: Lonewolf
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One of the most difficult aspects of writing short stories is establishing the mood. Unlike in the case of novels, the writer has much less time to effectively describe the setting and characters, and must do so in order for the plot to take off. A story consisting only of places and people would be boring, because the reader has no vehicle via which to become involved in the story. The mood of a short story is established through detailed descriptions of the settings, people, and atmosphere of a story.
Setting the mood is important to a story, because it draws the audience in by getting them to feel what the character feels. Whether this is in a very short story or a novel, it is just as important. The difference between the two is that in a short story you usually have time for only one. As you describe the location, the characters and the action, the words you use can make your reader feel differently.
If you describe bright vibrant colors the reader imagines something different than if you were to describe dark, drab colors. Sounds and smells carry different impressions. Choices of one word over another should be made on the basis of how the reader will react to them.
How do you want your reader to feel as they read? Once you have decided this choose your words so that they increase these kinds of reactions. Whether you’re using metaphors, similes, description, action, or dialogue, the choice of words must be based on both the meaning, and your intent as a writer.
If you need to set a certain mood in the story you must choose your words so that they all emphasize that specific mood.
If you are describing how a man is walking down a street, everything that you say about the street, the man and the way he walks sets the mood. Your description of the street can emphasize the mood. In order to do this, you must imagine yourself following this man. What do you see? Everything should match the mood you are trying to set. However, if you sent a man walking very slowly looking side to side down along twisting dark lane between somber warehouses with dark blank windows, then you set the mood as rather ominous. Your reader is expecting something to happen that is not happy.
If you wrote that the alley smells of rotting garbage and fuel oil, your reader will feel like they would not like to be in that neighborhood. The readers can imagine those smells from memory, and the odds are that anywhere they remember being, and smelling those smells, was somewhere they would rather not have been. If you tell them that a rustling sound to the right in the darkness made the character look in that direction the mood becomes suspenseful.
At this point, if you want to insert something important to the story in a surprising way, you can have him notice it, remember it or miss it entirely.
So we have these three choices:
1. Ethan walked slowly down the narrow curving alleyway between the old warehouses. Searching, searching for the bracelet Rosanna dropped earlier. He was flanked on either side by creaking old buildings with dark blank eyes, he could smell the garbage cans and the pungent odor of fuel oil. A rustling to the right made him turn and peer into the dark, but he saw nothing.
2. A rustling to the right, and his eyes fell on the faint gleam of Rosanna’s bracelet.
3. A rustling to the right, and he knew that something, or someone, was there watching.
Note how changing the ending of this paragraph changes the story. It also changes the mood.
The example starts off very ominous and a little scary, but then turns sad when he misses the bracelet.
The second one becomes hopeful, or perhaps more fearful, depending on what has happened so far, or what will happen next.
Excerpt of: Nameless
He silently crept through the shadows, his unreadable green eyes searching every corner of the darkened street. How long had it been? he wondered, in some distant part of his mind. How long had he been forced to live friendless and alone, always afraid for his life? It seemed now that he had never known another time. His sister was all that drew him on, some faraway hope that he might somehow see her again.
He took a quick breath and darted forward, hoping desperately that he had timed it right, that he would reach the tower in time. The spectral building loomed before him, even more menacing when wreathed in shadows. He paused before the small back entrance, just a fraction of a second…
And the guard came around the corner. A shout, a curse, and he was through the door, racing up the spiraling stairs. His heart pounded in his ears as he sprinted upwards. It was all for nothing now, he knew. But something would not let him stop. He could not give up, not after he had gotten this far.
Somewhere below him, he heard the sharp slam of a door closing. He slowed, listening, his breath loud in his ears. It was agony straining his ears to hear his enemy’s next move. What he heard chilled his blood and made him suddenly terrified: silence.
He sat down to catch his breath, his fear a fist clamped around his heart. Why would they just leave him? He knew that his sister was somewhere in this tower. The only reason the guard would abandon pursuit is if a trap was already in place.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: Sarah and the Governor
Sarah sighed as the Ghost, Booam, entered through the outside wall of her house and handed her a scroll. “Delivery from the House of Wizards,” he said.
“What do those, er, wonderful people want?”
“Open the scroll and see for yourself. I’m only the messenger. And I’m going to tell the Governor of Magic what you were going to say.”
Sighing again, Sarah said, “When the House of Wizards created Ghosts, they did the wrong thing giving you personalities.”
“They thought life would be more fun that way.”
“Speaking of fun, you didn’t go next door and tell my neighbor you were her dead husband again, did you? She thinks he’s trying to reach her from the dead.”
Booam snorted. “Ziles are so naïve. They think Ghosts are actually dead people.”
“Just because Ziles don’t know about magic, it doesn’t make them any less important.”
“Whatever. Look, will you just read the stupid message and reply to it so I can go back to Lansing and leave this nasty city?”
Sarah grinned. “You don’t like Flint?”
Booam rolled his eyes.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: Sorrow, Rain, & Amenheo
Kyrick clutched his cloak tighter, the chilly wet drizzle continuing to harass our progress. A glance at the gray sky revealed no hint as to when it would end. Taking a look around at his companions and noticing their heads bent against the wind and rain he urged his mount forward to catch up with the leader of this cavalry column of eight, Lord Knight Tillmen. Pulling up beside him Kyrick drew breath to speak. Jack was a good leader, as good a Knight as there was, but there were times when it was best to remind him of others, for they were exhausted.
“Jack,” Kyrick said, “we’ve been at this for better than two days now. The men and the mounts are both spent. It will be dark soon; we won’t catch anybody especially in these conditions.”
There was a pause for just a moment as Jack appeared to be studying the way his breath formed white clouds in the chilly air. It seemed Kyrick would get no response and he almost repeated his statement. But finally Jack responded.
“You are right my friend, signal the halt.”
Jack turned to face his men as Kyrick signaled for them to dismount. Jackutal’s form could only be described as muscular and hard though at this moment it was covered in plate mail. His face rugged and powerful, vivid blue eyes drew in an onlooker’s, the intensity behind those orbs kept your gaze. Jack presence radiated to those around him you could feel his resolve.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: Some Simple Business
Gabriel hit the wall hard. His massive frame left cracks in the plaster. As he fell to the floor, the colossal body guard lumbered towards him. The man looked like a bald gorilla with milky white eyes.
From behind the behemoth, Reginald Carstairs the Third laughed. "His mouth is writing checks his body can't cash it seems. Gabriel, if you're going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk. Finish him quickly so I can finish my business." Carstairs didn't walk so much as swagger. He looked rather out of place in the old dingy warehouse. His sharp three piece suit in pale blue didn't quite fit.
Then again, the three shivering teens on the floor didn't fit here either. Gabriel had discovered just this night that Carstairs was planning to sell them to some other worldly interest.
That interest was waiting, partially hidden by the shadows in one corner. One of them spoke in a voice that reminded Gabriel of nothing so much as a cold wind blowing off a septic tank. "Interesting. You have provided us a show as well as a meal. We shall enjoy watching the death of the Watchman, Carstairs."
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: Hidden Knowledge
A wet miasma of smoke, concrete and caramelized wood surrounded Max. Moving with studied care demanded by his bruised form, he turned his head to where he thought was up. His guess was apparently correct. It had to be gravity compelling the granulated waterfall of rain dampened soil and debris o the once-grand edifice onto his battered body in response to his slightest movement. He surmised it had been gravity that had drawn him down, past the basement, and into this place of dampness, rainbows playing across wet outcroppings of beams that once held gilded ceilings.
The impact must have knocked him senseless, but for how long. In this chasm, day and night appeared to have no relevance. Max blinked as a flash of incandescence flashed across his face like a floodlight. Blinded for a moment, he tried to still his breath as he cupped his free hand over his eyes. There it was again, framing the forms that had resulted in his descent into this apparent abyss.
His day had begun, as five out of seven did, to the summons of the alarm clock. As a senior adjuster, he could have stayed in the office doing phone or paper claims. Since this past summer’s vacation, however, he found himself choosing the on site inspections more often than not. He had also surprised his co-workers by returning with his vacation mustache in place. They teased him at first about the salted growth, but he thought it easier to ride that out than having to explain the scar it concealed; not merely the one souvenir he had brought back from his vacation, but the only tangible proof that it hadn’t all been a dream, if not the early onset of senility.
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