The response to my Monday post suggested how important mood is to writing. It started me thinking that one of the primary goals of writing is, in fact, to create a mood in the reader—happy, angry, frightened, melancholy. A writer’s success at hooking the reader, or lack thereof, depends to a large extent on whether readers are experiencing the mood the writer wants them to experience. But how can words create a mood?
Fortunately, human beings are emotionally expressive. We’re wired for emotion and most of us like it. We read fiction to be emotionally involved. So, the writer has a partner in the drive to create a mood. I know, as a reader, I desperately want the writers of the books I’m reading to be successful. I’ll meet them halfway, but they are the ones driving and the first move is theirs.
I find that most writers have strengths and weaknesses in their ability to create mood. Personally, I find it easier to create melancholy moods than happy ones. I’m not exactly sure why. I’ve definitely experienced sad times, but I’ve had plenty of happy ones as well. I’m not generally a sad kind of guy. But an important aspect of creating mood in writing, I think, is for the writer to be experiencing the very mood they are trying to induce. When I’m happy, I tend to spend less time writing. I’m doing other, happy things. I express myself with laughter maybe, but happy moods don’t send me to the keyboard. In contrast, when I’m feeling a little down I seem to naturally gravitate toward words in an attempt to express the feeling.
I also find that certain words or phrases have the strength to evoke certain moods in me. “Gray rain.” “Barren trees.” “Cemetery.” “Coffin.” These shift my mind toward melancholy. “Zephyr wind.” “Clear stream.” “Cicada.” These tend to create a summer mood, peaceful and relaxed. A lot of this is the power of association. Cemeteries are associated with loss, and loss with sadness. In Arkansas, I remember hearing the Cicadas’ strident song every summer when I was working on the farm. To create mood we need to find the words that are associated with the experience of that mood. And those words and phrases, if we let them, will shift our own mood toward the one we’re trying to convey.
So, if you’re a writer, what mood do you find easiest to evoke? Which one is hardest? As a writer or a reader, or just a person in general, what words or phrases create mood for you? I’m curious to see how different your words are from mine.