When thinking about how to create the right atmosphere in your novel, your aim should be to stimulate the reader’s emotions. With the correct atmosphere, your reader may be filled with dread, wonder or awe; he could be outraged or feel serene. Use the suggestions made below to help you create the right atmosphere so as to manipulate your reader’s feelings and moods.
Choosing Your Ambience
Right from the very start of your novel, you must know what kind of atmosphere you are trying to create. Is it a world that is cold and harsh or one that is heart-warming and soft? The former presupposes that your story is set in a place that is unforgiving and life is difficult. The latter suggests a place where love and happiness are easy to attain. The convention in the publishing industry is that the more serious the tale, the darker and more sombre the atmosphere.
Use of Language to Create Atmosphere
The following are 3 ways in which you can use language to emphasise the atmosphere in your novel.
1. Creating atmospheric images.
Many times, the mood is set by how you describe a particular scene. Your aim should be to paint strong mental images with the use of adjectives and adverbs to give texture to what you’re saying.
Let’s look at part of a sentence from the opening scene of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts: ‘… that looked down upon a busy street, …’ The noun ‘street’ is neutral and tells us very little. However, the moment you add the word ‘busy’ in front of ‘street’, the mental image created is different. The street probably has lots of traffic, people milling about and street vendors. Can you see how using one adjective has radically changed the image and atmosphere of the scene?
2. Mood makers.
One of the best ways to lighten or darken a scene is to use the weather. Analyse published novels and you’ll see that it always rains when a car breaks down; there’s always a storm (or an approaching storm) when the protagonist is about to enter a haunted house. A couple will usually kiss under a clear and moon-lit sky.
3. The five senses.
One of the best ways to create an atmosphere in any scene is to use the five senses of touch, sight, taste, sound and hearing. Make every scene a feast for the five senses – tell your readers how the food tasted, how cold a gun felt to the touch or how enticing the smell of the female villain’s perfume was.
John Ling, author of Fourteen Bullets, says as follows: ‘What most people don’t realize is that stories are not movies. … Therefore, if you rely on sight, your stories will end up being very flat. A solution is to use what novelist John Barth called triangulation. Triangulation suggests that you should cut down on sight, and focus on other senses such as smell, hearing and touch. You will get a well-rounded story this way…’
When you put in the effort and create atmospheric scenes in your novel, you’re effectively allowing the reader to make an emotional investment in the events playing out. When the tale is over, you can rest assured that your readers will appreciate your work. Indeed, fill every scene you write with atmosphere and no publisher will be able to resist publishing your novel.
- Roberts, Gregory David. Shantaram St. Martin’s Griffin; Reprint edition (Nov 2005)
- WritersandArtists.co.uk. Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
- Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).
- Ling, John. Fourteen Bullets Silver Lake Publishing (15 Jan 2005)
- Sundararaj, Aneeta. Diamond Writing: An Interview with John Ling (2 August 2006).
By Aneeta Sundararaj
This article was first published on Suite.101: http://suite101.com/article/how-to-create-the-right-atmosphere-in-your-novel-a383013