Friday, June 5, 2015


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, or 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 have 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—comfortable lounge pants, oversize shirt, a pair of soft socks or barefoot.  If it’s cold and dreary, cooking special foods for dinner will call upon memories of growing up or happy times.  I surround myself with cozy things to snuggle up 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 give the reader verbal cues but how you ‘paint’ your ‘scene’ gives subconscious clue to your atmosphere.
Take a moment and think:  At the end of the day or the close of a long week, what does your mind leap to that spells comfort or invokes peace or happiness?
Chances are, you will automatically add in the atmosphere. It’s not just the action or words or a place, but the background your mind layers in subconsciously. If you contemplate how your comfort is built it becomes a pattern to build atmosphere in your writing.

I’m curious. 

When you need to set a particular tone or mood with your writing, what do you do to put yourself there first?  Do you use sound? Touch? Scent? Open the inner journal of times past?  


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia - love your thoughts here and could see you enjoying the comfort of your home ... cooking some delicious food, or just something simple - enjoying the company around you .. hubby, son, family and friends. Showing is so important isn't it ...

Your writing entices me to visit the Ozarks ... your posts are always drawing me in ... cheers Hilary

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Hilary for those kind words. I'm glad you enjoy what I write about here.
Creating atmosphere is important in my life. Let's just say, the past two weeks have been a time of needing to create or change the atmosphere at the McKye homestead. :-)

Kat Sheridan said...

Mmmm, cookies! My characters are rarely settled or comfortable. For me, that slows the pace. I want my characters on edge and out of their comfort zone most of the time. But scent is a big one for me in my stories, whether it's the scent of a favorite food, or a flower that reminds them of someone. I'm also big on color to evoke mood. If I have a tense scene in a book, I'll often place it in a red or orange room, while quieter scenes might be beside blue water, or in a green forest. As for setting my own mood to write, it's very specific music (usually Mozart), and perhaps an icy Manhattan at my elbow.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Not sure what I use. Faster paced writing with short sentences? I guess someone who has read my books would have to tell me.

~Sia McKye~ said...

KAT--color and scent is great for setting a scene. Atmosphere is an important facet of a scene--whether it's a happy or contented scene, love scene, or one of fear or edginess. It's all about setting up those subtle clues for the reader to pick up on.

I use music in writing as well. Sometimes it's songs with lyrics and other times instrumental. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

ALEX--you do use varying sentence structure in your stories, but you also tend to create a setting with clues to the mood. :-)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I need my hot tea and my writing desk to enter my comfort zone though hot coffee will work too.

Pat Hatt said...

If I have to write say singing in a novel, which I've had to, I find a song that fits. Music can do a lot

Christine Rains said...

I need something sweet to eat and quiet. I'm getting a little better at working with other sounds, but I do my best work in a quiet house. Have a lovely weekend!

klahanie said...

Hi Sia,

I was going to comment en Francais, maybe next time :)

A positive distraction, a moment savoured, is most certainly conducive to my mental health well being. The atmosphere, ah yes, we can entice the atmosphere, the ambience, by enhancing what makes us content. I vacuum while wearing cordless headphones. The more upbeat the music, the quicker I finish.

I'm glad to note that you immerse yourself into a comfortable, comfort zone.

When I actually write, I do like to have an ambience created that relates to the writing style I'm doing. Chances are, when I write one of my surreal posts, I've got trippy electronic music playing in the background. Something emotional with an open candour and I may well be listening to some classical music.

Sia, you write from the heart and it shows. The passion for the written words resonates from the screen.

Thank you and have a peaceful, positive weekend, surrounding with the atmosphere and resources you love.

Gary :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

SUSAN--You know I love coffee, but if I'm going to have tea I love to make a pot with loose leaf tea--just something about preparing tea that way puts me in a good mood or soothes me.
Glad to see you have a place that puts you in the 'zone' to write. :-)

PAT--you're absolutely right. Music can so a lot!

CHRISTINE--I love the sound of silence. Lets me hear my thoughts. I can and do write with music. Just depends upon what I'm writing and if I need a barrier between me and what's going on around me. Sometimes quiet is better. I hear you on noise. It's distracting. I could never write in a coffee shop, for example, too many distractions and I can't get into the 'zone', but I know many who can.

~Sia McKye~ said...

GARY--My school girl french is probably not up to a full comment in French. I can make my way through it but to reply in written French, not so good. We won't discuss how many years ago I took French. :-) However, I can still sing all the French songs I learned, lol!

I've always had the ability to create multiple layers of atmosphere for comfort and peace.

As to writing, I think atmosphere is part place, action, and words, but there are many layers our mind adds as we contemplate a scene. I used the pattern of what gives us comfort to show that. It works the same with creating a scene with anger, fear, or grief. Actions and dialog have to be there but to really set the scene I believe we have to think about those subconscious layers and tune our characters (and readers) actions/reactions to them. Especially when building or increasing tension. Yes, music can give one an edge to do that.

Thank you for your kind words. I do write from the emotional heart of things and I'm glad it come across that way. :-)

Have a great weekend, my friend. May your eyes feast on the wonders that surround you and hear the music in the wind. :-)

mshatch said...

Sometimes I can write with music, but most of the time music distracts me - it either her makes me want to sing along or dance! - so quiet is usually best,

Rachna Chhabria said...

When I have to set a particular tone or mood in my story, I try to imagine myself in that scene and then using the five senses I describe the scene. Definitely Sound and Scent, Touch and Feelings too.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Btw Sia..I too like scented candles and cookies :)

Anonymous said...

Good post. I like to set a scene using multiple senses. I love good food and the sights and smells of a meal often make their way into one of my scenes. The sensory detail sets a backdrop and the characters' interactions may be influenced in subtle ways by the setting. I love music as well, but it is much too distracting when I'm writing, so I tend to prefer quiet or natural sounds like the chirping of birds.

~Sia McKye~ said...

MSHATCH-- lol! it wouldn't do to be dancing around when you're supposed to be writing. Lyrics can distract me, too.

RACHNA--Great way to put your reader there as well. All our senses become involved in certain situations and while our readers can't 'smell' what the character does, you can give them word associations that will allow their brain to pull those scents.
Oh, I love candles, both visually and scent! Cookies are always good. ;-)

James, mon ami! Good to see you here. I know your penchant for good food and boy can you put a reader in the scene with your descriptions. My mouth waters. I agree, the sensory detail, while subtle, do influence the scene and your readers' perceptions of the characters' actions and words as they read that scene.
Nothing at all wrong with natural sounds with writing--it's the best part of silence, imo.

Anne Gallagher said...

Funny, now that you mention it, the weather is what sets my mood to write. If it's raining, my prose is long and sad. Bright and sunny equals quick sentences and a lot of writing hours. The seasons usually end up in the book as well. Last winter during an ice storm I ended up writing it in. And then wrote in some hot lazy days during summer for another book. I was freezing and writing about sweating helped me stay warm. lol

Sheila Deeth said...

I can't do the scented candles thing 'cause I'm too scared of fire. I'm not sure what gets me in the mood to write. Coffee helps. Chocolate would except I'm meant to be on a diet. Housework, washing and yard work definitely don't help. Music's an optional extra. And if nothing else works, read.