Setting the Mood in Your Stories

After yesterday’s post, a writer friend of mine mentioned that he likes to describe the amount and type of lighting in his scenes. That’s an excellent way to set a mood. Dark places are foreboding and light places are cheerful. Here are some of my examples of using light in Acceptance.

Anselm has just recused Ciaran from a near-fatal encounter in a dark alley in Charleston. He takes him to Marie’s house.

The front door of the old plantation house was thrown open the moment Anselm’s hurried footsteps echoed across the wide wooden porch. Bright yellow light streamed out, blocked only by the figure of a petite woman with dark curly hair, cut in a bob.

A stream of light in the darkness–hope. Not to mention Marie’s figure blocking the light sort of sets a tone for her. She is boss of her house.

Anselm and Marie move Ciaran to the old wine cellar. Anselm goes to check on him the next morning.

Anselm stepped inside and Marie shut the door behind him. In the space of one heartbeat, he noticed that the bed at the other end of the room—illuminated by the light from one of the narrow cellar windows—was empty.

Imagine that scene in a movie. You’re dealing with some strange alien which may or may not be dangerous to you. You lock him in a basement overnight. When you go to check on him the next day, all you can see is the empty bed where he ought to be… and it’s empty. He is somewhere in the darkness.

When Kalyn goes to her Acceptance ceremony (which will make her an adult and a servant of the vampires), it is late afternoon:

The sun was so low, it was barely visible through the trees surrounding their houses.

By the time it’s done–and it’s time for her to leave with Anselm to be bitten for the first time:

The sun had completely set during the ceremony, and Kalyn looked up at the purple sky, rapidly turning midnight blue, and tried not to be conscious of Anselm’s hand.

I’ll be honest with you; I have no idea why I chose that time of day for Kalyn’s Acceptance. But, at the same time, it does set the mood. You can look at it metaphorically–that Kalyn’s sunny childhood is ending and she’s entering the much darker world of her adult life. (Much of the rest of the action in the book is set at night/ in darkness.) If Anselm was evil, it would be quite ominous–again, leaving the light for the darkness. But, if you want to look at it romantically, then you can see it as “mood lighting,” if you will–a pleasant stroll at dusk with the object of Kalyn’s desire.

Speaking of ominous and evil. Here is Kalyn captured by the evil vampires:

They went through the central hallway, and behind the main staircase was a narrow set of stairs going down into a dark basement. The man with Kalyn flipped on a switch, and a single, bare bulb came on over the stairs.

Talk about descending into darkness.

So, be conscious of the lighting in your story and use it to set the mood or foreshadow some impending doom (or redemption).

Feel free to share your examples in the comments.


2 comments on “Setting the Mood in Your Stories

  1. All good points, Keri. I’ve handled lighting pretty well, but I think I can do better. I’ll give it more thought as I write this month.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      I’m going to have to think about it more going forward, too. It’s all well and good to do it unconsciously, but you can do a lot of shaping and foreshadowing if you do it consciously.

      And, hey, it’s something everyone can do during NaNo to get more words! If new scenes aren’t forthcoming, go back and describe scenes you’ve already done in great detail. Something new may shake out of it.

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