Friday, August 21, 2015

Atmosphere Feels - Helping Readers Feel the Characters and Setting

Happy Friday, everyone! Holy cow, what a week, huh? It's been blazing trails here on my desk. Huge edit, schedules for bloggers, handling the radio show, and blogging every day have me so confuddled, I'm not sure whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt. But! Today, I'm all about the writing tip! I had a discussion with Teal Haviland, creator of the awesome website My Endless Endings (it's like a smashup of Facebook and Goodreads), and she suggested a post on atmosphere and feels. So, we'll be talking atmosphere and all the feels your character can get from their surroundings (and how to communicate that to the reader). Grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!

So, your character is on their journey, and they walk into a room. Let's do this via examples. My character will be named Teal, and she's going to her grandmother's house.
     Teal stepped into the room and plopped down on a sofa, putting her feet on the coffee table. A teapot was sitting nearby, and she snagged a cup, filling it with the hot liquid. She took a sip, and relaxed as she waited for her grandmother to come downstairs.
     After waiting for half an hour, Teal wondered what was taking Grandma so long. Something felt off. She usually made an appearance within five minutes or so, and Teal was getting worried. Carefully, she put down the cup, rose to her feet, and walked back to the foyer to look up the stairs.
Okay, there's Teal in her environment. You all know I'm not one of those writers that goes into a ton of description. However, there's a time and a place for everything. You need tension in this scene, so description and engagement of the five senses will help. Remember this post. Yeah, only this time we're talking about how the environment impacts the character's feels. If you have your Feelings Workbook, pull it out now. Let's edit!
     Teal stepped over the threshold to a dimly lit foyer. Shivers ran down her spine when she inhaled and the musky scent of the house assaulted her. Moving to the living room, she sat on the flower-print couch, wondering where the plastic cover went, and put her feet on the antique coffee table. A silver tray with a porcelain teapot and cups was nearby, and she tossed a sugar cube in one of the cups before pouring over the liquid. She took a sip, wrinkling her nose at the bitterness of the drink, being careful not to burn her tongue, and sat back as her eyes scanned the room and she waited for her grandmother to come downstairs.
     Time ticked by, increasing the unease Teal felt when she entered. Where was Grandma? She always arrived within five minutes to spread the latest gossip from the other blue-haired ladies in the neighborhood.
     Teal's shoes clicked on the floor when she put her feet down. In the absolute still, it was like a gunshot. She winced, carefully put down the cup, and removed her shoes. Holding the slingbacks by their straps, she rose and tip-toed back to the foyer. Her heart pounded in her chest and echoed in her ears.
     One of the floorboards in the ancient wood creaked, and she paused, ticking back her ears. Dread slammed into her, and she let her gaze float up the stairs, tracking the fresh boot prints on the beige carpet.
In the first passage, you understand something's not quite right at Grandma's house. In the second, you feel like it's something sinister. Smell, sight, sounds, touch, and taste are all engaged.

Why? What's the difference?

In the first passage, there's little to no description of the environment or how it's impacting the character. If the surroundings don't have a feeling, your reader won't feel. Sure, you can tell them, but they want to feel it, too. You have to show in this case. If you noticed, from the content of passage two, we're now aware plastic is missing, the lights are dim, the tea is hot, it's too quiet in the house, and there are fresh boot prints on the carpet.

What do you think Teal will find based on the first passage? How about the second?

What do you feel when you read each one?

We can bring a lot out by describing the atmosphere of the character's environment, and it'll translate to the reader. I do ask that you use this tactic sparingly. Pages and pages of description will bog your reader (and your story) down.

Now you try it. Start with a passive scene, and make it an active scene.

Let's see your results. Don't be scared to share!

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. Atmosphere is something I definitely try to fine tune during editing process. Great post!


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