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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » atmosphere...or lack of same

   
Author Topic: atmosphere...or lack of same
Varneshi
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I have now read and re-read most of the writing class and discussions in this area and found both interesting aspects to writing as well as silly points of view. The one thing I have not found is atmosphere.

Where are the charactors living? What are their enviornments like, is it water, air, dust, et al?

What type of weather is there/or lack there of?

I found that when one sets up the atmosphere before the introduction of the charactors, one could create a sense of forboding or enlightenment (depending on what is happening and why.)

For example:

The skies cried out in pain as the storms gathered together from the east. Everyone knew what was to come.
Lighting flashed its graish light warning those foolish enough to remain in the streets to run for cover. It was time for home. Offices emptied, streets became crowded. Light began to pop on all over the city.
Thunder crashed. Rain began to pour from the blackened skies in sheets, solid walls of liquid. Still, they made their way home. All of them fearing an even more deadly menace that was even now preparing to awaken.
The winds pickup, howling around the corners...

What do you think...

Varn.


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Shasta
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Sometimes setting up atmosphere works for the tone you're looking to create. Sometimes it becomes the target of the worst opening sentence of all times. <grin> There's a contest for that now...

I think what it might boil down to is that people have different writing styles. Some work best by description and some work best by cutting out the background and stating the facts.

I know, when I'm reading something, say a chapter discussing the design of a door (i.e. "The Scarlett Letter")... well, this was extremely boring for me. I want to get to the core of the story. Now.

I prefer fast action and quick dialogue... though I also demand real characterization. So I could care less what the weather is like unless it had direct impact on the character's. Call it my 'commercialization' where everything must be known in 1 minute and then we move on.

I guess it boils down to what you, as the storyteller, feel is necessary to build the world you want to create... but bear your choice of readers in mind. I mean, if you're going to write to an extreme SciFi crowd, you better be up-to-date on your science/tech or they'll be heck to pay.

On the other hand, if you're going to write to the fantasy/romance crowd, a little description can go a long way. Smelling the fields, knowing what the people are wearing, that kind of thing.

[This message has been edited by Shasta (edited October 06, 2000).]


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Varneshi
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Shasta,

I understand, I too like getting into the meat of the book, but I also find that if you set the mood of the piece before you introduce the charactors you will give the reader something more to chew on.

For example...what is more menacing than the storm that creates wall's of wall and lighting that seems to seek out its victims?

I think this gives the players something to stand on as well as set the tone of the story to come.
I always thought that you must first lay in a foundation for your story before you can build on it. To me the foundation is the scene that starts the story. This is how I've written from the first to the last page. It fleshes out the scene for me.
Or am I just whisling into the wind?

Hmmm.

Varn


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Survivor
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Atmosphere should connect immediately with the main character and the thrust of the story. I think that I could provide a couple of examples from stories that I wrote for my writing group.

quote:
Thahn Eleath Myral, last of the Warrior wraiths of Thanador, sat on a low stone and stared into his small fire. Nearby, the ghosts of long dead warriors sang of hopeless battles, of lost loves, of forgotten lives. Here in the light of the fire, though, all was silent. The dead were leaving this place, he could feel it. They forgot, grew weary of the long years of unquiet, faded. He could not begrudge them rest, but still, he turned from them, seeking solitude this night. The warriors singing in the shadows would soon depart, going to a place that he could not follow, though he thought it might be familiar to him. The innocent and damned alike had long gone, to places that he could not imagine. Soon, he would be all but alone again, wandering as he had ever done, telling the living of times past and things future. He stared into the flames and thought of this, as the songs of the dead faded.
This passage is very atmospheric, but the atmosphere comes out of the perceptual context of the main POV character (I wrote this story with two points of view, an artistic decision but one that I fear may have undermined the totality of...never mind). What I'm saying is that the actual setting here is just a dark night outside with a small fire. The setting that matters to create a "feeling" about the passage is the character's internal state of feelings and reflections, far more than the physically observable scene.

quote:
The coven was meeting tonight.

John walked into the objective, anonymous in these forsaken streets. It was an irony that no longer troubled him. A grim smile touched his heart at going about his work unmolested. A man in a dark coat, even wearing gloves and hiding his face in his collar, would excite no comment here. These decayed buildings, some burned and never repaired, brought Isaiah to mind. Wo unto them that join house to house, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth! Fools building without thought for the consequences made these places, then moaned uselessly about the blight that drove decency and honesty away. But such evils were not his concern. Tonight the abandonment of this maze would serve his purposes. He was close now.


This passage builds more through the development of the character's reflections about the physical environment that he is moving through, a genuinely decrepit urban area. But as well as seeing the environment of the story, we are also getting information about the character.

quote:
Telamarr woke earlier than usual, well before dusk. The sun was still setting in a blaze of red, lighting the scattered clouds in dramatic contrast to the deepening blue of the sky. Few of the clan were awake yet, other than the scouts. Another day he might have simply gone back to sleep. It would be an hour or so before most of the clan rose, and until then there was little to do. But he would become a Varr Hunter tonight, something that he had waited many years for. He smiled and lay on his back, looking up at the quilted sky. Tonight, he would become true Varr. Anticipation made sleep unthinkable. He grabbed his pack from under his head and rolled to his feet, shaking out his tunic with one hand as he started off.
This passage brings the sensory perceptions of the character through largely unfiltered, neither directly bearing on his feelings nor being overly colored by them in turn. The following passages have far more of this sort of neutral reporting of what the character percieves, without much of the character's "mood" penetrating descriptions of a stand of trees, a stream of clear water, the distant horizon, the feeling of running through tall grass, and so on. But these details are connected to the character because they describe the environment in which he has been raised. They also later provide a contrast for when he enters a very different environment.

In other words, I don't know that we haven't treated the issue of environment. We just haven't treated it separately from issues of characterization and point of view. Or at least, I haven't. I don't believe that "atmosphere" can have any meaning in a story except in it's effect on the perceptions and actions of the characters. The physical environment of the story doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it has to be percieved and interpreted from the viewpoint of the character.


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Shasta
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quote:
The physical environment of the story doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it has to be percieved and interpreted from the viewpoint of the character.

I think you've hit the nail on the head there, sir.

The other thing a writer who wants to "spill into the artistic painting of their world" needs to consider is cliche. The old: "It was a dark and stormy night" kind of thing will turn a knowledgeable reader from your book faster than, well, just plenty fast.

It's one reason I don't often read books written by women (though this is changing thanks to C.J.). Description for it's own sake is plain boring. But, when tied into the character, as in Survivor's first example, it really brings more than just foreboding to the scene... it brings character background.

And whenever you can kill two birds with one stone, the feast is always better.


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