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Thursday, June 24, 2010


Okay, so in my Wikipedia exploration of Gothic Lit, one of the big factors was atmosphere. And I have to say that Atmosphere is something I love. I'm much more attracted to "dark" movies than colorful ones. I could watch Sherlock Holmes over and over, just for the atmosphere.

True Blood is a show that definitely has atmosphere...somehow the combination of vampires and the deep south is perfect for atmosphere...though there's more to it than that.

Recently I've picked up several books that claimed to be Gothic, but as far as atmosphere went, they were really paranormal. Beautiful Creatures (again with the southern thing) had a lot of atmosphere, and what I've read so far of The Monstrumologist. It's been a long time since I read Twilight (some darn kids stole it...really from my classroom library. I guess I need some kind of surveillance system) the idea of being in Forks Washington where it's gloomy and rainy does seem to be the perfect setting for some great atmosphere.

So, atmosphere is something I recognize when I see it (or listen to it, like The Cure) but how do you create it? I don't know that I'm any expert on this, but I have been looking into it for almost a year.

Imagery- What images are you creating...and do they create atmosphere? Heavy, dark brooding ruins, castles, deteriorating mansions...dense forests, places that are steamy and hot or places that are cold (mild and pleasant is great for picnics but not so much for the atmosphere) what things do you focus on or describe?

Word Choice- I studied Poe's Fall of the House of Usher for word choice, and made a list that I'll probably post on the blog tomorrow. There were certain words that I used (probably too much) tattered, dark, gloomy, etc. But in finding new variations I found some new words. Tenebrous is another word for darkness. Even sometimes when I'm focused I will have to use the thesaurus because I'll be so focused on certain words. When I wrote the first scene of The Fall, I was using the word shaking over and over. It took me a few drafts to switch some of them to trembling.

Sentence Structure- Poe ties you up and abuses you with his sentences. For a modern (and possibly lazy reader) his sentences are like some kind of hedge around the castle that is the story. You have to hack your way through. I'm a short sentence and fragment type of writer, so finding a balance was a lot of fun. Atmosphere does require some long and in depth sentences, but I think it is nicely punctuated with some ominous fragments. Here and there.

Voice- voice is such a weird thing. I keep reading that we all have a certain authorial voice that comes through in our writing. Maybe, maybe, one day I can take The Fall, and Handcuffs, and Greedy an unpublished realistic contemporary that I really loved writing and see the same authorial voice in them (the character voice is certainly very different in all of them). I do think that you could find similarity in the turn of the phrase, etc. To me, working on atmosphere with voice is about what the character notices. In The Fall, Madeline does not really know what is normal or how normal people live, if, for example (and this doesn't happen, but whatever) if the walls start bleeding, she's like, hmmm that didn't happen yesterday. Whereas another character might be freaked the hell out. I've started another Gothic haunted mansion sort of manuscript in which the main character is much more aware of what is weird and creepy and what isn't weird and creepy. Both ways are fun.

So, in conclusion, for writing things with atmosphere, I think the key is to figure out what you want, and how far you're willing to go to get it. I don't think the modern reader is willing to hack through a jungle of words (they'll do it for Poe, but probably not for many others). But I do think that the modern reader loves good atmospheric stuff.

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Blogger Josin L. McQuein said...

What I do is something like this:

For atmosphere, grab the soundtrack to one of those movies or TV shows (The Village soundtrack is AWESOME for this) and let it sink into your skin. It sets a rhythm in your head you can match the words to.

Then pick an actor/character whose voice you can "hear" the words in. Personally, Cate Blanchet's monologue voice from LoTR's intro works well for "creepy" or "distant" which works well for Gothic. Her voice sounds like fog trailing out over dark water and it's perfect for that atmosphere.

June 24, 2010 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Nomes said...

I found this post really interesting. I am not really a fan of "chunks of description" especially when I want to the plot of the story to keep moving forward. But atmosphere is so much more than description. It can create awesome tension and foreshadowing and evoke emotions and images that make the book seem real.

And it's something is really need to work on my own writing (maybe I should read Poe... I'm scared I wont like it - and I'll fail as a cultured reader :)

oh, and yeah, Cate Blanchett's voice is just brilliant in TLOTR. Somehow, I can always recognise tricks for creating tension and atmosphere so much easier in movies than in books.

it was a dark and stormy night... haha.

June 24, 2010 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger amy said...

haha I just had to go through my MS and kill all my "shudders". I went from thirteen down to three, which I hope is an improvement. Of course there's always a lot of shuddering in gothic stories, but it's nice to use other words too (trembling is good).

June 24, 2010 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger bethany said...

haha, your character shudders when they should be trembling, mine shake when they should be trembling (not the whole character shaking btw, just their fingers or hands or whatever!)

I LOVE soundtracks, but I'm more of a writing in silence person, too many family members with too many demands! Lack of noise is my favorite thing in the world.

June 25, 2010 at 9:24 AM  

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