Conveying Mood part 1: adjectives #amwriting

This week we are continuing our exploration of words. I’m on a quest to find ways to use fewer of them and make the most of the ones I do use.

I’ve said many times that words are the colors we use to show entire worlds. Today, I’m exploring the many ways we use words for better impact.

I like to find my information easily, so I make a new file for every story I write. Once I know what the mood for the story I intend to write is, I go out and look for the mood words I want to have on hand. I list them in a document that I will save in that file with a proper file name, such as: mood_words_Rainbows_End.

This takes very little time, and I have a supply of mood descriptors to draw on to build my world without having to stop and look things up. Having this list helps me avoid crutch-words.

Because I am currently writing several pieces with a Gothic mood, my example word last week was ominous. It is an adjective that conveys the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen.

But first, what is an adjective? For those of us who can’t remember what we ate for dinner last night, much less what we learned in grade school, adjectives are words or phrases that modify a noun, which is a person, place, or thing. They add to (or grammatically relate to) a noun and act to modify or describe it.

We don’t want to get crazy with adjectives, because they’re like salt–too much and you’ve ruined your food.

However, they are a fundamental part of English grammar, and while we can be sparing with them, we can’t eliminate them because (again) they are like salt: some are essential.

I use the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. But if you don’t own a good thesaurus, the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus is your best friend.

You will find many words, some of which are obscure.

Do yourself a favor and choose words that are fairly common, ones most readers with an average education won’t have to stop and look up.

Synonyms for ominous I can use: baleful, dire, direful, foreboding, ill, ill-boding, inauspicious, menacing, portentous, sinister, threatening.

Related words to subtly reinforce the mood: black, bleak, cheerless, chill, cloudy, cold, comfortless, dark, darkening, depressing, depressive, desolate, dim, disconsolate, dismal, drear, dreary, forlorn, funereal, gloomy, glum, godforsaken, gray/grey, lonely, lonesome, miserable, morbid, morose, murky, plutonian, saturnine, sepulchral, somber/sombre, sullen, sunless, threatening, wretched.

Other related words:

discouraging, disheartening, hopeless, unfavorable, unpromising, unpropitious, ill-fated, ill-starred, star-crossed, troubled, unfortunate, unlucky, evil, malign, malignant.

Antonyms for ominous, opposites I can use to provide contrast, so my mood is made more explicit: unthreatening.

Near Antonyms for ominous:

auspicious, benign, bright, encouraging, favorable, golden, heartening, hopeful, promising, propitious, prosperous. [1]

Toward the end of my work, I will want things to feel hopeful. So, I have researched the word auspicious the same way as I did ominous.

Definition of auspicious: having qualities that inspire hope or pointing toward a happy outcome.

Synonyms for auspicious: bright, encouraging, fair, golden, heartening, hopeful, likely, optimistic, promising, propitious, rose-colored, roseate, rosy, upbeat.

Words related to auspicious:

cheering, comforting, reassuring, soothing, assured, confident, decisive, doubtless, positive, sure, unhesitating, favorable, good.

Antonyms for auspicious: bleak, dark, depressing, desperate, discouraging, disheartening, dismal, downbeat, dreary, gloomy, hopeless, inauspicious, pessimistic, unencouraging, unlikely, unpromising.

Near Antonyms for auspicious: cheerless, comfortless, doubtful, dubious, uncertain, grim, negative, unfavorable, funereal, glum, gray/grey, miserable, wretched. [2]

If you are writing any kind of genre work, the best way to deploy your descriptors is to find the word that conveys the atmosphere you want with the most force.

Sentence structure matters. Where you place an adjective relative to the noun they are modifying affects a reader’s perception. They work best when showing us what the point-of-view characters sees, hears, smells, touches, and tastes.

Sunlight glared over the ice, a cold fire in the sky that cast no warmth but burned the eyes.

In the above sentence, the essential parts are structured this way: noun-verb (sunlight glared) adjective-noun (cold fire), verb-adjective-noun (cast no warmth), and finally, verb-article-noun (burned the eyes).

The scene could be shown in a multitude of ways, but a paragraph’s worth of world-building is pared down to 19 words, three of which are action words (verbs).

In my next post, we will go deeper into the uses and abuses of modifiers.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] “Ominous.” Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

[2] “Auspicious.” Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.


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4 responses to “Conveying Mood part 1: adjectives #amwriting

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