Capturing a Mood in Writing

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“I have a mood I want to write about, but I don’t know where to start. How do I even get a plot from that?!”

You have no idea how often I hear this, and I love it. No, not because the person in question is in distress, but because they’re not creating a plot-focused story. We have too many of those nowadays in the big media franchises. From what I’ve experienced, the greatest stories aren’t the ones that start with a plot, but a feeling. A mood. A character. A location. A problem. From there, this starting idea develops a plot that’s natural. Starting the other way around with a plot and trying to cram everything inside of it often doesn’t work nearly as well.

But the original concern is valid. How do you start a story from just a feeling?

This is exactly what I set out to do in my short story “A House of Fallen Leaves.” People in the comments said over and over again that they felt the mood I created (and it’s always nice to hear that you accomplished the goal of your story). For this flash fiction piece, I didn’t start from scratch. I used an old story that I wrote two years ago and had been wanting to flesh out (which is a great way to get ideas if you’re feeling stuck, by the way). The original prompt was “leaves,” so obviously my main goal was to get across that feeling of fall. The cosiness, the chill in the air, the warm drinks, and yet the slight darkness, too.

Once you have that mood firmly set in your mind, here’s what you do with it:

1. Write about the mood

Try to describe it. It may be difficult, but even just one key word can give you something tangible to attach this mood to. Do the best you can to expound upon the feeling you want to get across.

2. Match the mood to something tangible

You’ve got a solid grasp of the mood, so next it’s time to begin crafting a story around it. Try matching the mood to one of these things:

  • A character: What made the character feel this way? What is the mood propelling them to do?
  • A place: How does this place fit your mood? Describe it in detail.
  • Weather: What kind of effects does this weather have on the world? What kinds of people are out in this weather?

These aren’t the only options, but they’re certainly the ones that have been most helpful to me in this scenario.

3. Write about it…again

Once you have a “thing” that carries your mood into the story, write about it. It doesn’t have to sound pretty or polished. It can even be more like notes on how your mood relates to whatever you picked. Just write whatever comes into your head.

4. Finish plotting by accident

By the time you’re finished with the previous step, you’ll probably find that you accidentally created more elements of a story as you were writing – maybe a character, a problem, or an action. The more you write and brainstorm, the more you’ll “accidentally” fill in the story. Before you know it, you have a plot based on a mood!

It doesn’t have to be grand or long. Take a look at my story again for example. It’s just a story about a quiet moment, an interaction between two sisters. Just because it’s not full of flashy action doesn’t mean it’s not a story. It’s just as important to write about the quiet moments in life as it is to write about the loud ones.

5. Use imagery

Finally, when you get to writing your story, the key to getting your mood across is imagery. You don’t want to plainly state your mood in every other sentence; instead, find more “things” that match your mood and include them in the story. Objects, shadows, sunlight, colours… It can be anything.

This process isn’t always simple. Sometimes it takes a day, other times weeks. But stick to it, and eventually, you’ll come out on the other end with a story that people can feel, something they’ll remember. Now that’s a meaningful story.

Have questions about this writing process? Have you written a story like this? Let me know in the comments!

Happy writing!
-E.J.


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Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

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4 thoughts on “Capturing a Mood in Writing

  1. Pingback: Voice, Tone, and Mood – Are They the Same? | E.J. Robison

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