One element to consider, when writing fiction, is the atmosphere or mood of the tale.
This is less tangible – more abstract and difficult to define – than other aspects of storytelling, such as plot, and character development.
Consider any of Daphne du Maurier’s novels or short stories.
In my opinion, du Maurier would be a perfect example, of an author who mastered atmospheric writing. Were her plots good? In truth, they varied. It’s not easy to defend “Frenchman’s Creek” or “The Scapegoat”, in terms of plot alone. Yet, both are excellent, classic novels, with qualities that more than compensate for weaknesses in their story lines. And yes, strong characterisation was a part of this, but also, atmosphere.
As for du Maurier’s finest literary works, including “Rebecca”, “My Cousin Rachel”, “Jamaica Inn”, and much of her short fiction, such as “The Birds”: so atmospheric, that the very mood, underlying them, could be said to be a character, in its own right.
Setting is a vital component of atmosphere.
A crowded commuter train, or an abandoned barn, or the local pub on a Friday night. Your story is going to have a very different feel to it, according to the type of setting. When you choose precise language, to describe your specific train, barn or pub, it becomes real.
Sentence construction and length comes into play here, too. Short sentences can help to build tension, although, as with many other techniques, this can sometimes be overdone.
Use the five senses.
Yes, I know. You’ve heard it before. I’ve heard, and said, it before.
But, the truth is, most writers still default to using primarily sight and hearing, in their writing. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but sometimes, you’ll find that the addition of some aromas and textures, possibly during the revision stage, can increase the reader’s sense of involvement.
These extra sensual details can make a surprising amount of difference to the overall quality and believability of your fiction, and you need very few of them. In fact, they’ll be much more effective, when used sparingly.
Keep in mind, the weather, time of day, and season.
These all form part of your characters’ experiences. Whilst taking care not to slip into cliché mode, it’s important to include some details, that keep your story grounded in reality.
If, on occasions, the weather can either echo, or completely contradict, the emotional mood of characters, in any given scene, that can result in the powerful, atmospheric prose, that readers devour.
However, please don’t use: “It was a dark and stormy night.” And definitely, don’t use this as your opening line. Interestingly, I believe that I missed this particular cliché, in my recent post about how not to write a first chapter.
In my settings examples, two of those included time of day clues.
The commuter train could be a morning or evening version, and knowing which would, in itself, make a difference, in terms of mood.
The Friday night pub, again – that’s going to be different, compared to mid-afternoon, at the same venue – or perhaps, Sunday lunch-time, for another variation.
It’s worth focusing upon atmosphere in your stories. Getting this right can take the quality of your prose to the next level, and certainly make your fiction more enjoyable to read. You know that feeling of actually being inside a fictional world? That’s what we all aim for, right? Immersion.
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