Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Settng the Scene; Writing The Mood

I was sitting down to write this post when I started thinking about what a beautiful day it is here today, sun shining, not a cloud in the sky, a touch of autumn in the air, how good I felt, how much I was smiling.

These are all things a writer needs to think about and identify.  These are things that enrich stories and bring them to life.

There are  many things that affect character and setting so I thought I'd pull one out and get you to think about how to use an element in your story.

For example, weather can be an important element in your setting. If it's sunny, windy, rainy, snowy, sleeting, hailing or just overcast. The weather can contribute to the mood the writer sets in a scene.  It can, and would, affect a character's emotional being and it can be used to foreshadow upcoming events.

So let's think about rain for one.  Consider how it looks.  If it's raining the sky is overcast and dark, things might seem bleary and depending on the power of the rain it might be drizzling or pounding.  It would put a sheen on everything like asphalt, sidewalks, windows; even more so if it's night. Leaves shake beneath the onslaught, awnings collect water and dump the overflow on people walking the street. Water can ooze into puddles or splash up with a downpour. Rain will drench hair, soak clothing and send people running for dry sanctuary. Think about how everything is affected, how it appears.

Then think about the other sensory input.  How rain smells.  It washes the air clean laving behind a fresh smell, unless you're in the tropics in which case it might be a more heavy, earthy, moldering vegetable smell.  If it's a full blown storm lightning might leave behind traces of an ozone smell.

Would there be a taste?  Water is water- BUT in an urban area might there be traces of something else?  Has the rain washed through something acidic in the air?  Is there something else?

And how does it feel?  It could be cold and wet making things clammy and very uncomfortable, or if it's a warm rain it might make the air heavy, humid and the characters miserable. In either hot or cold clothing would be saturated against skin, shoes would be soggy and irritating and a driving, hard rain can actually be stinging against the skin. People hunch over in the rain, they grab newspaper, briefcase, umbrella to huddle under for protection. Most people run in the rain, though some seem to relish it and stroll. Characters might shiver in a really cold rain. Some may be ready to dance naked in a warm rain.

Don't forget the sound it makes.  It can be a soft whoosh, an irregular pink-plonk, a powerful pounding. Rain falling on a tin roof can create a cacophony to the point where it's almost impossible to hear anything else. Or, of falling gently on a green lawn it might make only a whisper of sound. It depends on where the rain is falling, how hard, and if it's coming down at an angle or dropping straight from the heavens.

And what does all this do to the mood, the emotions of your characters?  Rain might stop your character from getting where he/she needs to be or doing what he/she needs to do.  It might force characters together seeking shelter from the rain who would otherwise not choose to occupy the same space and give you, the writer, the opportunity to take things slow for just a while, reflecting while the storm passes. It could be a depressing moment for the character or a cleaning one. It could be humbling before nature's power or romantic as in Gene Kelly's "Dancing In The Rain".

Be original, think of new associations or new twists as to how this can be used to your advantage.  BUT, avoid the old cliches.  Let's not have drizzling rain at a funeral or a little girl crying in the rain or the rain washing away the sins of the character.  It's been done.  Be more original. Think about how you, yourself, react to something, in this instance, rain. Think about how a character, feeling bleak, might feel that more intensely if the ran is followed by bright sunshine and a rainbow. Consider how joy can be tamped down by a drizzling rain or a biting wind that foreshadows trouble to come.

Don't be afraid to put this test out there when you're writing, and rain is just one of hundreds of examples.  How does it affect the character?  How does it feel?  Smell? Taste? Look? Stretch your writing and grow.

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