Sunday, March 3, 2024

Setting the Mood

Creating mood through setting is important in crime fiction. Can you give examples from books that have inspired or moved you? Also, please share an evocative paragraph from your own work and tell us how you came to write it.

Brenda starting off the week.

Using setting to set a mood is integral to crime fiction but it's also key to all good writing. When done well, the setting and mood seamlessly flow into the story, like a movie set.

I used to love Gothic romances set in sprawling, dark mansions with hidden passageways, stormy nights, wind-swept moors, and secrets ... lots of murderous secrets. Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights -- the setting soaked in grim moodiness, like the characters who inhabited the pages.

Another book where the setting breathed like another character is To Kill a Mockingbird. I still think of the hot, summer nights in that Southern town, people drinking lemonade on their front porches, sparkly fireflies, and the kids walking past the scary house where Boo Radley lived. The Hallowe'en night where Scout is attacked is memorable all these years later.

In the crime fiction genre, a book that made an impact is Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. It's another book I read in high school and the devastating realism of those murders stayed with me for a long, long time. At its best, mood and setting complement the plot and enhance the pathos, or horror, or whatever feeling the author is working to evoke.

In creating mood through setting in my own work, I believe that details should be slipped into the scene without long tracts of description. I use the setting to up the tension, often having the scary bits happen at night, during stormy weather or in an isolated location, such as the woods or an empty house. As an example, here is a scene from When Last Seen:

The road was unpaved but pothole-free. Tony drove slowly while he and Ella peered into the bushes and trees on either side. No sign of a car on the first pass. At the five-minute mark, the road ended at an overgrown driveway that led to a house with the roof caved in, a black, hulking mass set in a clearing now thick with tall grass and bushes. Tony parked and they circled the building on foot, their eyes adjusting to the gloom and moonlight. They met in front of his car. “It can’t be safe to go inside. We should just leave.” He took a last glance toward the house and shuddered as he reached for the car door handle.

When writing works best, setting and mood enhance the plot and evoke emotion in the reader. I've visited several book clubs this past year and am always thrilled and perhaps a bit surprised when something retells a scene from one of my books in detail and talks about the impact it had on them. This really is the objective in my mind -- create a picture in words that the reader sees in their imagination and that makes them feel something.

And to end this post, one last descriptive passage from Closing TIme, seventh book in my Stonechild and Rouleau series:

Kala drove with care through the stormy night, the road slick with rain that puddled on the shoulders and spread in snaky rivulets across the pavement. The light from her headlights pierced through the swirling fog that parted for a moment until she'd passed through and then closed in as if she'd never been.


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Dietrich Kalteis said...

Capote and Lee — you couldn't have picked better examples of setting mood. Also terrific scenes from When Last Seen and Closing Time.

Susan C Shea said...

Oh, this is good: "the swirling fog that parted for a moment until she'd passed through and then closed in as if she'd never been."

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Dietrich and Susan!