How to Create Atmosphere
Like tension and mood, atmosphere is a key component in fiction writing. It’s a way of creating a particular emotional feeling with the reader and makes use of different elements to achieve this. It elevates the narrative and keeps the reader engaged, but it also means the writer can manipulate the reader’s senses.
Let’s start with setting. Various scenes will take place in different locations, so the environment is key to setting the tone and mood. Is the location dark woodland, a deserted beach, the ruins of an old house or maybe a road in the middle of nowhere? Or what about a cosy restaurant, a coffee shop or even the sofa at home with a blanket and some popcorn?
How does the location affect the way your main character acts? Are they comfortable in their surrounds, or are they apprehensive, scared or curious about something? Their emotions should enhance the mood and translate to the reader. They should pick up on those sentiments, too.
With the right setting for a scene, it’s then a matter of creating the right description to enhance the tone. The right word choice and correct sentence structure helps to paint a vivid picture for the reader, and thus provide atmosphere, mood and underlying emotion.
You have to describe things so that the reader can see, taste, touch, smell and hear everything happening in that scene, so include sensory details (the use of senses), visual details, which covers the way the reader perceives the description of setting, place and objects to make the story believable, and emotional details, so that the reader understands how your characters are feeling.
Remember to “show, don’t tell”, so use strong verbs and nouns to build up the description and tone and to keep the narrative active rather than passive. Give it different layers so there is depth, and use the right words to evoke the right reaction, for example, a dark country road would be better with words that describe the weird sounds, the dim light, the sense of isolation, the creeping shadows and so on.
Remember to pace the narrative, because this also affects the mood of the scene. Scenes that have more action within them require shorter sentences and staccato words to create a quicker pace. Romantic and emotional scenes benefit from longer sentences and words to create a slower, reflective or calming pace.
Tense, moody or scary scenes require a balance of both short and longer sentences, and a mix of the right descriptive words to evoke a sense of rhythm within the sentences. And where possible, use some well-placed similes or metaphors to enhance the narrative.
Remember, atmosphere is a feeling that your writing creates for the reader – what type of atmosphere you want is dictated by each scene, setting, pace and the right description.