Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Faith Van Horne on Establishing Mood

I'm pleased to welcome Faith Van Horne to the blog today.  She's written a very interesting piece on establishing mood.

Establishing Mood

A co-worker and I were walking past our library's paperback display (yes, I work at a public library, and it's fantastic) when she picked up a book. She tapped the cover and said, “This author's really good. She writes about Turkey, and it's like you're there. When a writer's really good, you can smell it.”

My co-worker was stressing the importance of one of the writer's primary jobs: transporting the reader into the world of the story. While there are many aspects to this job, today I'd like to focus on establishing mood.

In Revision and Self-Editing, James Scott Bell states that a story's mood “is like the score of a movie—it plays in the background, deepening the feelings of the reader. Illuminating details operate to both set up and pay off emotional moments.”

Next time you're re-watching one of your favorite films, pay close attention to the background music. Chances are if it's played subtly, you've never noticed it before. How does the music coincide with what's happening on-screen? If a portion of the scene has no dialogue, try playing the film muted. How does this change your experience?

The background music serves as an “illuminating detail”, a small piece that by itself seems insignificant. But when it is woven into the film, it emotionally involves the viewer more deeply into the story. In fiction, illuminating details are bits of vivid description that, when properly highlighted, establish the feel of the story.

Setting the mood early on creates a promise to the reader. The writer is letting readers know what kind of story they are about to read. A lighthearted romance will focus on different details than a high-stakes suspense novel. Of course, this also creates a challenge for the writer. Starting the story off in the wrong direction can create a jarring dissonance for readers. They most likely won't even be able to tell you what they didn't like about the story, only that something felt “off” about it.

In my horror/P.I. novella All Hope Lost, I wanted to establish early on that my protagonist Dana Cay was just emerging from a dark place in her life. Her client, Warren Parker, is in the midst of his own personal hell. To demonstrate that pain in both characters, I chose to focus on Dana's reaction to seeing Warren's face:

I deduced the cause of the hollows beneath Warren Parker’s eyes and in his cheeks the instant he entered my office. They had marked my own face not long ago, and echoes of them remained. They were the caverns carved by the loss of someone close. Someone who shouldn’t have departed so soon, or so harshly.

Warren is not sunny or mischievous here. His eyes bear 'hollows', 'caverns' carved by 'loss'. If I've done my work well, you should be able to tell that you're about to read a dark story involving two grieving characters.

Who are some writers you find create an unforgettable mood in their novels? Any cases you've seen where the mood created early on didn't match the later feel of the book?

All Hope Lost

Two years ago, private investigator Dana Cay's brother committed suicide. For months she drove herself mad with grief, convinced a shadowy cult had fed from her brother's death. She's finally overcome her delusions, setting up shop in a new city and taking on low-stress cases.

Now Warren Parker darkens her door with his sister's story. She too leapt to her death, and he suspects the cult's involvement. Knowing Dana's history, he begs her to bring the faceless monsters to justice. Is the cult real after all? If so, can Dana stop its members before they kill again?

About the Author
Faith Van Horne is a writer of speculative fiction living in the American Midwest. Her horror/P.I. novella, All Hope Lost, is now available from Escape Collective Publishing. You can see what she's up to at her blog, faithvanhorne.blogspot.com.
A very big thanks to Faith for joining me today!  Below are links for her book:

Buy All Hope Lost on Amazon Kindle
Buy All Hope Lost on Nook


Denise Verrico said...

Faith, I enjoyed your post very much. Mood hasn't yet been discussed here by my guests. I'm glad you chose this for your subject. Thanks again!

Faith Van Horne said...

Thanks for having me, Denise!

Pauline B Jones said...

Excellent blog! And a good reminder to writers! Thanks so much to you both!