Mood and atmosphere #amwriting

I refuse to self-edit my first drafts, especially during NaNoWriMo, so the prose in my current work is less than stellar. Because I am inventing the story as I write it, the early drafts for all my work are littered with ‘ly’ words and other telling words.

MyWritingLife2021Once the first draft is a complete novel, I will step away from it for a few weeks and work on other projects. Then when I come back to it, I use the global search (find option) to look for each instance of ‘ly’ words and rewrite those sentences to make them active.

Active prose injects impact into the narrative, but the first draft is littered with telling instead of showing, because I am telling myself the story.

I’ve said many times that words are the colors we use to show entire worlds. I am always looking for ways to use words for better impact.

Every idea for a novel comes to me with an idea for the overall mood, and that mood can be described with a word. Sometimes though, that word is difficult to identify.

I make use of the thesaurus. This is where you will find words to describe mood and atmosphere, along with synonyms and antonyms, words with the opposite meaning.

I make a new storyboard for every story I write. Once I know what the story I intend to write is, I go out and look for the words that will help jar my imagination, words that convey the mood and atmosphere that I want to instill in my work.

I include the list of mood words in the storyboard file so that I have them on hand.

It speeds up the writing process if I have a supply of descriptors to draw on to build my world without having to stop and look things up. It also helps me avoid crutch-words.

For the cash strapped author, the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus is your best friend.

You will find many words, some of which are uncommon. Do yourself a favor and choose words that most readers with an average education won’t have to stop and look up.

For example, if you are writing something with a Gothic mood, your inspiration word could be ominous. It is an adjective that conveys the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. The word ominous brings other dark thoughts to mind.

ozford-american-writers-thesaurusSynonyms for ominous that we could 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 the overall mood and atmosphere is made more explicit: unthreatening.

Near Antonyms for ominous: auspicious, benign, bright, encouraging, favorable, golden, heartening, hopeful, promising, propitious, prosperous.

Toward the end of my work, I want things to feel hopeful. So, we might want to research the word auspicious the same way we did ominous.

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.

But you can do the same for any word that conveys mood:

Humorous, mysterious—you see what I mean. The overall mood-word you choose for your work will have many synonyms and antonyms and you can use them to your advantage.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543If you are writing any kind of genre work, the best way to use your descriptors is to find the word that conveys the atmosphere you want with the most force. That word will help you visualize the scene and enable your ability to spew the story.

I refuse to self-edit my first drafts, so my prose in my first drafts is sometimes a mess. Because I am thinking out loud as I write them, the early drafts for all my work are littered with ‘ly’ words.

In the first draft the most crucial thing is to get the idea down without self-editing. For this reason, we don’t publish our first drafts!

If you are like me in your first drafts, cleaning up the ‘ly’ words could take a while, especially in a large manuscript. However, that won’t be a problem unless you write that novel all the way to an end.

Credits and Attributions:

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

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


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5 responses to “Mood and atmosphere #amwriting

  1. Whilst I used to religiously remove all the ‘ly’ words from my manuscript, now I’ve taken to allowing a small handful. Sometimes they help the prose to be just that bit more varied, although they really have to earn their place!

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