But each fall I’m surprised how dark it is in the late afternoon. Every morning I’m surprised how light it is so early.
The darkness puts our whole family in a different mood. We light candles at suppertime. We feel sleepier at bedtime. And when I take my daughter to her scout meeting at 6 p.m., she gets the delicious sensation that she’s up really late at night and out on the town.
I’ve noticed lately, though, an aggressive attempt by stores to put me in a very particular mood.
The Christmas shopping mood.
It was November 3 and I walked into a store that was playing Christmas music. Whoa! There’s no way I’m ready for that stuff yet, y’all. I picked up some things for the kids last summer and that is it. The Christmas season starts after Thanksgiving. It does! But I kept running into stores that were selling the season awfully early.
These stores’ determination to put me in a money-spending mood was a slap in the face. It was not subtle. It felt very pushy to me.
I’ve read some books where I felt the writer abruptly and clumsily tried to force me into a mood: a tense mood, a frightened mood, a maudlin mood. It jumped off the page at me and I don’t think it’s because I’m a writer.
It’s like watching a poorly-done horror movie. You know the bad guy is going to leap out at you because of the scary music, heavy on strings, that’s loudly playing.
Subtle ways to create a mood:
Skillful (and, to my liking, brief) description of the scene’s setting: an abandoned, deteriorating house (unease). A crowded train with body to body people (stress).
Setting tone through dialogue. Obviously this would be two or more characters sharing more than just chit-chat with each other. There could be an urgent tone set, a joyful tone, somber tone…
Syntax: We convey our feelings about a person via word choice—choosing words with negative connotations instead of positive ones. Someone’s face has pity, not sympathy. Someone is smug, not content. A person is cloying, not sweet. The character contributes toward establishment of the mood—the reader feels suffocated by the closeness of the cloying character, e.g.
Weather: I’ve seen this overdone. But it can be used very effectively in unusual ways. We all remember what a beautiful day it was in New York city on 9-11. It just illuminated the horror that played out.
Light: The daylight savings time shifts play havoc with my moods. You could do the same with blackouts, houses with uncertain electrical wiring, uncovered ceiling lightbulbs creating sinister shadows, etc.
I appreciate subtlety in creating moods instead of having a writer lay it on too thick. Are you the same way? As a writer, how do you invoke mood?