Wednesday, February 02, 2011

LITERARY TERMS II: Setting the Scene

**  The winner of The Fourth Stall ARC is booktoo.  Congrats! **

The elements available to formulate an ingenious story are endless, as are the roadways to get there. Sure, there are formats we can use. Some use bullet outlining to draw the highway they intend to take the reader on, while others use index cards or a storyboard. A character sketch can be helpful for some storytellers. And still others would rather cut pictures out of magazines, giving more visual insight into their characters as they write.

A while back, we began a journey exploring the differences between Syntax and Diction in our stories. In simple terms, we established that Diction is word choice and Syntax is the arrangement of those words. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Tone and Mood are two constructions within text that are contingent upon choices a writer makes, affecting intimacy with characters, establish an invisible curtain of setting, and even pace, at times. In each literary term discussed in these segments, choice is the ruler.

I'm going to gear this toward young adult literature.

Mood is the heart or spirit of a piece of literature. Some refer to it as ambiance or atmosphere. It's the feeling or emotional flow the reader subconsciously absorbs while reading. We all can recognize a passage, let's say of dialog between a teen and his/her parents. Why? How? Mood is a construct embedded within our sentences, paragraphs, and chapters through Diction and Syntax as well as grammatical tense and basic building of said sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. When we write a scene between a parent and a child we implant mood through those choices. The degree or shift of the mood sways heavily on those choices.

credit for photo
This picture illustrates this idea. Look at the colors. Same items, flat surface, coffee cups, spoons, and even the same swirly design. Here, the mood is impacted by the mere choice of color.

When I cover up the photo, leaving only the green exposed, I get a sense of lightness, hope, and cleanliness. Maybe even a fresh breeze as my character is standing in an open field. I sense relaxation or calm anticipation. That subtle difference in color influenced my perception, my state of mind. The same applies to our choices in writing to establish mood for our audience.

Tone is the alleyway or avenue used to convey attitude or Mood. See how similar the relationship between tone and mood is to diction and syntax? While reading a scene, pay close attention to those choices I was mentioning and gauge their interaction with characters, setting, incidents, and primary plight of the story. In due time, an observant reader can sight the overall tone given off by certain characters and the underlining sense which is intended to enhance and move the story forward.

When thinking about tone, imagine words like playful or silly, formal or everyday, alluring or distant, optimistic or pessimistic.

Take a meet and greet scene at a local high school. One writer creates a story about a naive brown-haired girl, who grew up on a farm, recently lost both her parents in an accident, moves in with an aunt she barely knows and has to attend a new high school where she meets a boy and decides to share her hopes and dreams with him, opening herself up to healing and a hopeful future. A second writer creates a story about a snarky, blonde prom queen, who's normal educational arrangements at an upscaled prep school, just plummeted to the average high school downtown after her father was thrown in jail for money laundering and her mother ran off with the trainer, leaving her to trudge through her new albeit lower-class high school blaming everyone except herself for her misfortune and raunchy attitude.

The main plot line is similar, but the difference here is tone which was created using some of the elements we've discussed. One girl's story expresses hope and thankfulness, while the other gives off a selfish air that is difficult to empathize with. Sometimes we call this Voice. (Yup, that's for another post.)


  1. VEry interesting. I can't wait to read the post on voice. Thanks.

  2. Wow, great post. Loved the examples. :D

  3. You found a really clever way to illustrate mood by using that coffee cup diagram. Especially effective for visual writers like me.

  4. Love the way you used color to inspire sensory input. Great way to convey mood.

  5. Perfect timing. I was looking for some guidance on this and will certainly be back for "Voice". Great post thanks.

  6. I'm glad the post was helpful; although now I'll really have to bust tail to write one heck of a post on voice. *shivers and pulls covers over head*


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