I’d like to thank writer T.W. Lawless for contributing this guest post about creating atmosphere. T.W. Lawless was born and raised in outback Australia but currently lives in Melbourne. A health professional for many years, he always wanted to write books. During his time in the health field he studied creative writing, screenwriting and film-making. His first book was Homecountry which was published in early 2013. For more information about TW, click here. You can also follow TW on Twitter or Facebook.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The passage is from the Robert Frost poem, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. It has great atmosphere. So, what is atmosphere? A story has to have it to draw the reader into the author’s imaginary world. Atmosphere is the total experience, the sensations that the reader will feel as they read the book. Atmosphere makes the book readable. Here are some different ideas about creating atmosphere.
Obviously, different settings create different atmosphere. A graveyard at night doesn’t feel the same as a beach resort. The following is an excerpt from my book, Thornydevils. I’m describing St. Kilda, Melbourne, circa 1989. I’m offering this as an example of a succinct setting, which is still atmospheric.
She was a great source of information about what was happening on the glittering streets of St. Kilda—Melbourne’s version of Soho—where high-heeled drag queens rubbed shoulders with Mohawked punks, elderly ladies with their shopping jeeps and rat-infested druggies.
Weather/ Time of Day
Different weather creates different atmosphere. Rainy, overcast days conjure up feelings of depression. Sunshine probably makes a reader feel happy. If I want to evoke menace, I often set a scene at night, however, if I want to surprise the reader, I’ll set a gruesome murder on a sunny day.
The five senses can also be used to create atmosphere. A smoky hotel full of sweaty men will have a different sensory impact from that of the fragrance section of a Parisian department store. I frequently employ the five senses to describe a crime scene. Using them, I think, creates more realism. How does a person look when they have been shot? What does fresh blood smell like? I’ll describe it for the reader. I guess that’s the benefit of many years spent as a health professional.
First Person Viewpoint/ Present and Past Tense
I use my main characters, Peter Clancy’s, point of view to involve the reader. This way, they experience what he experiences. I even let them into his most private world—his thoughts. I’ve used the present tense during a past narrative, to make a scene urgent and powerful. The following is the aftermath of a shooting.
The sobs turned to wailing, loud and distressing. He could hear a chorus of sirens in the far distance. Groans echoed out of the garage at the end of the driveway.
First glimpse: A grey-haired woman wearing a floral nightie is hunched over, kneeling on the ground in the entrance of the garage, her face and nightie blotched with blood. Blood is smeared across the car door from the man’s hand. It’s as if a hose has been left on and it is running blood, not water, over the concrete floor.
There are many ways to create atmosphere. I’ve only scratched the surface.