Develop Atmosphere, Pace And Mood
A good beginning grabs us, a skilful description engages our senses, a cleverly woven plot starts to intrigue us, we are warming to the characters, and then – we realise we have ‘read’ a couple of pages without taking in anything. Think of some books you found all too easy to put aside – that gathered dust beside the bed as you told yourself, ‘I really must finish that.’ What was missing?
Can you think of one that has recently satisfied most of the criteria at the beginning of this chapter, yet still failed to sustain your interest? Find it (if you have not thrown it away in frustration). Look at the first few chapters again. Having reacquainted yourself with it, how would you rate it in terms of:
- atmosphere – the ‘something in the air’ that intrigues, excites, seduces, unsettles – ‘draws you in’.
- pace – is it crawling, cruising or speeding? Does it vary, or is it like a car with a stuck accelerator? Has the car broken down altogether?
- mood – in a sense, the ‘inside-out’ of atmosphere. Atmosphere affects a person’s mood, and vice versa. How well does the author convey this?
If the author has got these right, you should feel ‘part of the action’. You would probably have had some physical reactions, however subtle; prickles of uneasiness at the back of the neck, excited flutters in the chest, stirrings in the gut, an ‘oh no’ somewhere in the throat. Chances are, this was what was missing when you gave up on the book in question.
Now choose a book that really got to you – one that had you propping up your eye-lids at 3 a.m. because you just had to know what happened. Rate it on the same three aspects. How does it compare? Think of a film or TV drama that you would rate highly in this respect. Which were the memorable scenes? What was it that made those scenes so memorable? Do you notice any particular physical reactions as you recall them? Think of a TV advertisement or a piece of ‘on-the-spot’ newspaper reporting which you would also rate highly in this way. How was this impact achieved?
We can benefit greatly from studying the way these three elements are handled in a medium other than that for which we are writing. Videos/DVDs of successful screen dramas are particularly useful for this purpose – even more so if you can obtain the script (see Useful addresses).
Skilful handling of atmosphere, pace and mood:
- draws you in
- makes you feel part of the action
- may be experienced physically
- is essential to a good read
- can be studied in a variety of media.
Choose a favourite video and novel to use as references as we work with each of these elements in turn.