Today marks the final day of NaNoWriMo 2022. I achieved my goal and exceeded it, which was a surprise. The month has been crazy busy here at Casa del Jasperson, but I still managed at least 2000 new words each day and sometimes more.
Now that I have most of the foundation built for my novel (the ending is not written), I find myself going back and looking at places where I inserted notes to myself, using red fonts. These are messages like: Build tension between the factions here. Show how it affects the group’s mood. Or another note: Need an atmosphere of fear.
When writing those notes to myself, I didn’t stop to fine-tune the story. My personal quest was to get the story laid out from beginning to end and write at least 2000 words each day. At this point the novel is mostly talking heads. The world is there but barely. It’s still at the one-dimensional stage.
I’m still about 30,000 words from the end, but now I find myself relaxing, not worried about getting word count. I will still write new words every day, but I can also look back and add atmosphere.
I love to read. When an author uses mood and atmosphere well, they can elevate their novel from “not bad” to “memorable.” The way Emily Brontë employed atmosphere in Wuthering Heights is stellar. I would love to achieve that level of world building.
I know how I want the story to affect a reader’s emotions—it’s perfectly shaped in my head. The trick is making that vision come true in writing. It may take a year or more to get the mood and atmosphere to feel the way I envision it.
Mood and atmosphere are two separate but entwined forces. They form subliminal impressions in the reader’s awareness, sub currents that affect our mood.
Where you find atmosphere in the setting, you also find mood in the characters. Like conjoined twins, mood and atmosphere are best discussed together when we talk about instilling depth into a narrative.
Which is more important, atmosphere or mood? The answer is both and neither.
Characters’ emotions affect the overall mood of a story. In turn, the atmosphere of a particular environment may affect the characters’ personal mood. Their individual moods affect the emotional state of the group.
Emotion is the experience of transitioning from the negative to the positive and back again. Experiencing emotion changes a character’s values, and they grow as people. Whether they grow positively or negatively is determined by the requirements of the narrative.
This is part of the inferential layer of a story. The audience must infer (deduce, understand, fathom, grasp, recognize) the experience, and it must feel personal.
Setting can contribute to atmosphere, but the setting is only a place, not atmosphere. Atmosphere is created as much by odors, scents, ambient sounds, and visuals as it is by the characters’ moods and emotions.
While mood and atmosphere work together, there are differences in what they do:
- Mood describes the internal emotions of an individual or group.
- Atmosphere is connected to the setting
Mood and atmosphere are created by phrasing, conversations, descriptive narrative, tone, and setting.
Some narratives use world building to create an overall atmosphere and affect the characters’ emotional mood. In Wuthering Heights, Brontë uses the environment and setting to manipulate the characters’ moods on a personal level. She then widens the view using the architecture, the landscape, and the gloomy weather to darken the general mood and atmosphere of the entire story. This creates a feeling of insecurity, raising tension in the reader, a sense of the unknown hidden in the shadows.
She begins with seriously flawed characters, instills them with dread and uncertainty, sets their intertwined stories in an isolated environment, and wraps the entire novel in a cocoon of despair, dark skies, and barren moorlands.
Atmosphere is foundational to world building. Will I get it right? I don’t know, but as I write toward the end of this proto-novel, I won’t stop trying.