Today we welcome writer Jason Stokes who shares with us his advice on how to set the mood in your story.
Big thanks to Jason for being today’s guest poster, please make sure to check out his links and details at the end of this post.
The goal of writing, in its purest form, is to relate an idea or specific moment in time to someone else in a way that lets them experience that moment or idea for themselves.
It is a kind of telepathy in the transmission of thought but it’s also almost a kind of teleportation, picking up a person in a remote place and dropping them into your own world.
As writers, we use a number of methods to achieve that goal. The basis, the building blocks of creating a world that is almost real enough to touch and taste is description.
We tell what a thing is like, describing the basic details, using the most general terms so that the audience is wide, the scene is familiar and understanding is high.
However, once the scene is set, once the reader knows where they are, it’s time to get specific. It’s time to take your story from just like every over one like it and make it this one.
This one moment in time, this one event that is wholly unique and unlike any other. It’s time for details.
Details in fiction come from the use of senses to make a scene come alive and these are some of the things I’ve done over countless pages to help create authenticity.
Touch is the easiest and one of the most commonly used senses in fiction. Everyone is familiar with how certain things feel. If something sandy, you know that it is scratchy, granular and coarse.
If it’s moist you can almost feel the cool or warm moisture on your fingers. Touch is highly useful in fiction. In writing try to handle as many things as possible. Make a note of what they feel like. What do they remind you of?
This is a little like the method approach to writing but it’s useful to see what sensations you feel when say running your fingers through loose dirt as opposed to running a palm along weathered wood.
If you close your eyes do the textures remind you of other things? These are powerful associations that help bring a scene alive in fiction.
A little less often used is the sense of sound. However, sounds have a powerful effect not just on our immediate surroundings but our mood.
I’ve found it useful in some cases to find audio clips of regions I’m writing about, certain animals or even instrumentals (words are too distracting for me personally) that evoke the same feel as what I’m writing about to help set the tone.
When writing about life on an island? I found a looped audio of wildlife in that region to help pick out animals and background noise I might not have thought of on my own.
Definitely, underutilized, the sense of smell is easily one of the most powerful senses we use on a daily basis.
There is so much instinctual nature tied up in what we smell and humans spend an inordinate amount of time trying to control the ones that we encounter on a daily basis.
It’s an effective tool to suggest a mood in writing or drop a subtle hint and as a writer, I’ve frequently found exactly the right air freshener to put myself in the moment of the story.
Are they outside at Christmas? Pine scented. Are my characters on a tropical vacation? Floral. Is it a somber, more mood-driven scene? Sage and sandalwood work wonders.
Experiment, but on or off the page scent is an incredible tool for getting in the moment.
My personal favorite. One of the things that place a reader in the moment is the memory of a delicious meal or even better, the anticipation of one they’ve maybe never had the chance to try.
When writing exotic locations bringing along a local menu is one of my favorite methods for establishing a presence of the bat. I love food and I love writing about food almost as much. Besides, it’s a great excuse to treat yourself to a good meal.
Getting your hands on the local fare not only gives you something to write about but it’s also a way to grow and understand the location, the history, the essence of a region by taking one of the most culturally significant features of any spot on the globe, our vast and unique food options.
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No matter how you go about seeking authenticity in your writing, evoking the senses from first-hand experience can almost never be considered a bad thing.
The old adage says write what you know, I like to think it means, put yourself in a situation, to the best of your ability and then as true as possible put that experience on the paper.
Sometimes this means physically altering our surroundings to gain a better perspective and sometimes it means having an extra cannoli cause…we want to be sure we get the texture just right.
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About Jason Stokes
Jason Stokes is an author and artist living in the mountains of western North Carolina.
When he’s not at work in the studio he’s raising a pair of indomitable Cornish Rex cats and travelling the world with his wife and best friend, Anna.
Robbed of her strength and mobility, Teri is a Watcher. A silent witness to the lives of others.
When she stumbles across a crime so vicious it forces her to choose between her own safety and a woman she’s never met.
Can she untangle a web of corruption, clear her name and catch a killer before she’s the next to disappear?