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This month we have expert advice from Esther Newton on creating atmosphere in fiction, Ten Top Tips shows you how to write the perfect poem, Useful Websites features space themed inspiration, a market research tool and a place to chat.

Creating Atmosphere in Fiction

By Esther Newton

To be successful, a short story or novel needs to develop a strong sense of atmosphere. This draws your readers into your story so they can imagine this world you are creating. It also sets up expectations for them and gives them information about the characters they’re likely to meet in your story.

Here are some ways to help you ensure your readers feel as if they’re right there alongside your characters, experiencing the story for themselves:

Setting

Setting isn’t the same as atmosphere, but it is a big part of it and can help to shape the mood of the story. A story set in an abandoned warehouse immediately evokes a sense of eeriness and isolation, of neglect and dreariness.

Make sure you choose a setting which suits the type of story you’re writing. Different settings create different atmospheres. In a ghost story, you want the atmosphere to be creepy and one of trepidation. An ideal setting is an old theatre or graveyard. A setting on a crowded beach in Malaga induces a very different atmosphere.

Description

You can’t create atmosphere without description. But this doesn’t mean you need paragraphs and paragraphs of purple prose to ensure your readers can picture the scene. A few powerful adjectives and adverbs will effectively make your readers feel part of the story. Say you’ve chosen a hotel as your setting, using different words can dramatically vary the atmosphere created. For example, look at the following description of the hotel:

She eagerly hurried inside, her eyes soaking up the sumptuous sofas, gleaming floors and dazzling chandelier taking centre stage.

This short passage gives an image of light, of space and a pleasant place to stay. From this passage, your readers can also imagine the type of people the main character will meet e.g. smart businessmen and wealthy women. The following describes a contrasting hotel and produces a very different mood:

She gingerly stepped inside, her eyes widening at the sagging sofas, the filthy floor and dull, flickering light.

Here, the hotel comes across as dingy and dirty. Your readers can picture this hotel’s patrons as seedy and up to no good.

Five Senses

Sight and sound are often used to bring a scene to life and for impacting upon the tone of a story. But the senses of smell, touch and taste can also affect a story’s mood. A rundown cafe might smell like a mixture of sweaty training shoes and over-fried chips. The menu may be caked in sticky sauce and clammy mashed potato. The tea might taste like stagnant water. Your readers will be able to imagine themselves there, smelling the vile scents, feeling the congealed food on the menu and tasting the liquid being passed off as tea.

Weather

The weather is a useful tool for producing a certain type of atmosphere. A gloriously sunny day immediately conjures up feelings of warmth and joy, where something happy is about to happen. This may be the atmosphere you want to create for a wedding in your story. Though, perhaps it’s a wedding doomed not to take place. Again, you can use the weather to change the mood of the story and build up a mounting sense of tension, with the wind gathering momentum and thick clouds charging across the sky.

Time

The time of day can make a difference to the type of atmosphere your readers feel. For example, you can darken a story by setting it at night. There’s always an extra sense of menace, of threat and uncertainty in a story that takes place at night.

First Person Viewpoint

A story written in the first person can be very effective in creating a sense of atmosphere and making your readers feel as if they are part of the story, seeing and experiencing everything along with that character. Take the following example:

I looked at the garden, at the weeds weaving their way towards the house, merging with the ivy-coated walls. Something tugged at my memory. A smell – of unwashed skin, of bad breath and of something worse. Much worse. I shuddered, shivering and shaking. I remembered.

See how effective this method is for sharing in this character’s horror – seeing, smelling and feeling everything she is.

So now you have some tools for ensuring your story is an atmospheric masterpiece. Use them wisely and you’ll have a story that keeps your readers hooked until the last word!

Esther Newton is a tutor for The Writers Bureau. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of magazines ranging from ‘My Weekly’ to ‘Your Cat’. Branching out into the area of copywriting, Esther has also enjoyed editing the Junior page of her local ‘Cats Protection’ magazine for a number of years. As well as winning several awards for her writing, she enjoys judging writing competitions.