The cornerstones of storytelling are scene, characters, crisis and resolution, yet there is an element that sets writers apart—the tone or the mood. As strong as the hook, or the snag writers need to employ to keep readers interested, the mood must be established within the first paragraphs of a story.
The tone of a story employs oft heard advice; strong verbs that reflect the action and sensory details that allow the reader to feel the scene; hear the splash of raindrops on a tin roof or inhale the sweetness of aromas emanating from a bakery. But, the mood can also be enhanced through sentence structure. Varying the length of sentences establishes a rhythm with almost poetic meter. A series of short, staccato-style sentences speeds up the action, introducing an underlying urgency or panic while a longer, liquid flow, creates a languid mood. Some great plots have missed publication simply because the story feels off--the mood doesn’t match the scene presented on the page.
A sure-fire mood crasher is linear writing. Writers who tell their stories using a systematic start-to-finish formula miss dramatic opportunities. Though technically the work may be correct, the reader quickly loses interest in the mundane stroll down a city block before the main character encounters the thugs that confront him. The nuance of an interrupted walk can make the mugging more intense when the contrast begins with the action.
Stories can be told by beginning with the conclusion or throwing the reader into the centre of the
action, filling in details about what led up to the crisis. And while an orderly unfolding of the plot can be
the preferred writing style, testing the temperature, measuring the tone of the story should be one last
step an author employs before sending the work to a publisher.
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.