Sia McKye

We all have things that make us feel good; things, which bring us, comfort, or lift our heart. Maybe it’s a snatch of song, the scent of cookies baking, watching kittens play, the sound of a baby’s delighted laugh. The first snowfall and the quiet hush of peace and beauty it brings to our heart. It’s all about atmosphere. Sometimes atmosphere is something that happens, other times it’s something we invoke.

When I’m not in the mood to do household tasks, but know it has to be done, I play music with a strong beat and rhythm. Want to set a party mood, music again. Music and scent has always been a big thing in my life. Music makes me feel good, adds energy and can reset my mood. Music is a tool I’ve used to give the atmosphere of peace and serenity after an argument or so my baby could sleep. After a stressful day out in the world I long for the comfort of home. I light my scented candles, turn on music, change into something comfortable—lounge pants, oversize shirt, a pair of soft socks or barefoot. If it’s cold and dreary, cooking special foods for dinner which call upon memories of growing up or happy times. Surround myself with cozy things to snuggle to on a cold winter’s night, a funny movie, the smell of popcorn, a down comforter, a cat in my lap, a dog at my feet, and my family around me. A plate of homemade cookies, the snap and crackle of a fire all are atmospheric things of comfort I deliberately set up in my environment.

How do you set the atmosphere in your writing? We want to show not tell, so how do you show the mood and tone surrounding your characters? Dialog will show but what do you do with your ‘scene’ that gives a clue to your atmosphere.

What makes you feel good, brings comfort, invokes happiness or laughter?
At the end of the day or the close of a long week, what does your mind leapt to that spells comfort? How do you give that to your readers? How do your characters or scene reflect that?

What sets the mood of fear or caution? What suggests anger or danger without a word being said?

What comes to mind:  Seeing a cowering dog, tail between its legs, dark clouds boiling on the horizon, circling of vultures over a copse of trees, or a house shrouded in fog on a dark night, maybe footsteps in the night behind you. The squeal of tires, crash of broken glass; what comes to mind as you approach a door and hear the screaming of obscenities and a thump against a wall.

Setting atmosphere and emotions are important in our stories. Our characters represent real life. We want to touch our readers with something they identify with. We want to touch their emotions and their memories with our writing. It’s your readers’ emotions and memories that help layer your stories and make your characters multi-dimensional.

When you need to set a particular tone or mood, what do you do to put yourself there first? Sound? Touch? Scent? How do you set your scene so your readers feel and see it, without drowning them in words?


Filed under writing


  1. mickeyhoffman

    Sound works! But how to get sound in a book?I started a chapter like this. The first two words make me feel damp and on edge.
    “Drip. Drip. The previous day’s rain had continued through the night, and Kendra was in her classroom dealing with the results. The ancient chalkboards were so wet they bowed away from the wall. A saturated ceiling tile had fallen, and a shallow lake pooled in the center of the room in spite of the many buckets she’d placed in strategic locations.”

  2. Mairead

    Once I have the bare bones of a scene down, I tend to write out each and every detail, including the weave of the carpet. (lol.) By the time the story is in final form, I have “lived in” the scene long enough to delete what isn’t moving the story along.

    As for setting the scene to write – with two young (under the age of 7) kids, creating an atmosphere is like privacy – I might see it once they leave for college.

  3. I’m currently writing a book that starts in 1956, well before I was born. I have to get my mindset right, so I put on popular music from that year or I put the tv on the classics channel and watch movies from that time. I get the ideas of the styles and the mood from the outside stimulus and it comes out in the book.

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