Thursday, April 22, 2010

Setting the Mood

Guido Marussig-1885-1972--The Fan and the Eyes Usually my son gives me a play-by-play of what he’s working on at school.

But the past couple of weeks, his Language Arts class has been concentrating entirely on writing to prep for a standardized exam. And somehow he neglected to tell me until a couple of days ago. :)

I guess he thinks I'll be entirely too interested. He's right. Writing, I think, is hard to teach, and I’m curious how people approach it.

In preparation for this exam, the school had each of the six 7th grade English teachers specialize in a particular area and then teach it to the rotating student body.

His favorite class of the series was on mood. To pull the children in, the teacher had shown them a YouTube clip on the SmartBoard that was a parody of the Mary Poppins movie.

First she showed the regular scenes with Mary Poppins drifting gently down from the sky with her umbrella, surprising the children by swooping up the banister, and magically cleaning the nursery.

Then she showed the other version, where the creator of the clip had given it all a menacing tone with spooky music when Mary came from the sky and with horrified expressions of the children when the nursery went crazy—topped off with Mary Poppins’ head spinning around in a very non-Disney, Exorcist-type fashion.

The mood in the two pieces was totally different.

It's probably easier to create mood on film. You’ve got the benefit of using music (sometimes it’s overused, but it’s always an option.)

But we can accomplish the same type thing in our writing. We just don't want to make the reader feel like they’re being manipulated. And we'd want to make it as seamless as possible.

Setting is one big way of creating mood. How the author treats the setting is also important (the author's tone.) The author can turn the spooky old house into a lovely historic home just by his word choice.

What kind of imagery are we using? If we write all the senses, we can create an ominous or a happy mood even with aromas—is there a strange smell coming from the woods? Is the sweet smell of gingerbread making the kitchen a cozy place?

What sort of sounds are in the scene? Eerie whistling as the character is walking alone at night? Birds chirping in the backyard? Children laughing?

Characters’ thoughts and actions can definitely work toward mood creation—how are they reacting to the situation they’re in? Are they relaxed? Nervous? Frightened?

What kind of a climate are we creating in our WIPs? How do you create it?