Creep Me Out: Layering Mood In Your Writing

My skin crawls at the thought of spiders, snakes, mice and creepy people. The whole shiver, rub your arms, curl in a corner and grab the strongest person in the room to defend you type skin crawling. Even after the moment has passed, I can look back and still feel the uneasiness of that moment as it is etched in my memory. Bet you’ve felt that way too.

Hollywood has it made. Creating movies they splash mood on the screen with visual images, lighting and music. It seems so much simpler than what we do as writers, but it’s probably not. They are the masters of mood, getting us to clutch our date’s arm, have nightmares, scream at the heroine and get us to start thinking of romance and marriage. So, how do they do it?

Movies layer in the senses through colors, music, objects and lighting. You might not have a stage, but we can incorporate the senses in layers into our scenes to create powerful mood segments that move our readers to respond.

Hollywood in Mood Layers:

*Pick An Emotion. All of the following layers will depend upon what emotion your lead character is feeling during this scene. Be more specific than just mad (ex. Annoyed, frustrated, livid, etc.).

*Pick the Setting. Some locations will match your mood better than others. A candy shop might feel romantic or a wedding reception, but you wouldn’t want to have a suspense scene there. For a suspense scene you might prefer a deserted house or empty warehouse.

*Pick the Setting Lighting. As writers we communicate this through weather, time of day, bright lighting or dim. Happy scenes should take place in Sunny or bright situations. Sad or suspenseful scenes will have darker lighting in our word choice and descriptions.

*Pick The Background Music. You may not be able to crank music in your reader’s ears, but you can write the sounds of the environment. The squeaky step, the tweet of lovebirds, the crash of the waves against the rocks. Think of what sounds in your scene would show the emotion you are trying to convey.

*Pick The Verbs. Whenever possible, let the verbs and other words you use in the scene reflect the emotion you are trying to convey. For example, if the mood of the scene is annoyed you might describe a sound like the buzz of a mosquito.

*Pick The Objects. The objects you choose to describe the setting should reflect the mood of the hero/heroine. If fear is involved, the character won’t notice the cozy blanket, they will notice the jagged edge of the broken mirror. The color of objects can also convey mood.

*Pick Fears. Use what you know of people’s fears to help create emotion. For example, people commonly fear snakes, mice, bats and spiders. A lot of suspense uses those animals to create more of the sense of skin crawling creepy. Try to pick a few that are more obscure, but create the same response.

*Pick Favorites. Use what you know about what people like to help create emotion. For example, chocolate and coffee have a response for most readers. Thoughts of romance and comfort.

*Pick Smell. This is one of the strongest memory responses people have, use it to your benefit. If the emotion is fearful you could talk about the smell of death, blood, etc. If the emotion is love you can describe the smell of roses.

*Pick Taste. What does this emotion taste like? Stale coffee, oily, butter popcorn, blood, salt, old socks, etc.

Hollywood makes it look simple sometimes when we see the finished product, but they do layer their work to build mood. We can do the same.

What do you think helps to build the mood in a book or movie?


About Michelle Lim

Author Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle’s romantic suspense is represented by Karen Solem of Spencillhill Associates and has gained contest recognition in the Frasier, the Genesis, and the Phoenix Rattler, winning the Genesis in 2015 for her genre. Michelle writes devotionals for The Christian Pulse Online Magazine and Putting On The New. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories.

10 thoughts on “Creep Me Out: Layering Mood In Your Writing

  1. Great tips on writing mood. I really look forward to your blogs!

  2. Michelle Lim says:

    Thanks, Pat! Glad you are finding them fun and helpful.

  3. In a movie, the background music. That’s why I like to write to music that has the feel of the scene. You can’t hear the music, but yet…you can in a way. Does that make sense? It did to me!!!

  4. Michelle Lim says:

    That makes great sense! Sometimes I like listening to music that helps me set the mood in my scenes. Great idea, Jessica!

  5. jeannemt says:

    Love this post, Michelle. Your tips and ideas for establishing mood are helpful! In movies, I love the use of color in the scene to determine it mood. Either something the character is wearing (all black, bright colors, etc) or in the context of where the scene is happening. Music is always great too.

    Jessica, I love the idea of listening to music that fits a scene I’m writing. Never thought of trying that! 🙂

    Thanks, Michelle!

  6. Michelle Lim says:

    You bet, Jeanne! The music in movies always seems to come on when the heroine is headed down a dark hallway toward danger and we all know she shouldn’t go there. I love it when I read that same kind of thing on the page that makes me go, ‘No…Don’t Do That!’

  7. Lisa Jordan says:

    When I watch TV or a movie, it’s the music that gets my blood rushing. I can always close my eyes against the scary images, but the music still pulses. Great tips for building mood, Michelle!

  8. Ginger4 says:

    Before I write any emotional scene, I put myself in the character’s shoes, as I’m susre we all do. One time when I did that, I actually had a reaction I was not expecting. I began to concentrat on what my character was seeing and my body reacted just as if I was actually seeing it. I got out my pen and quickly jotted down what I was feeling and where I was feeling it. Then I contacted my favorite shrink lady, (you know who you are) and she told me the whys and such for the reaction. I was able to create a much better scene after that.

    Great info Michelle. I’m never disappointed by your posts 🙂

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