Fiction with Atmosphere

I’m reading a novel set in 1950s Texas. The author does a good job of creating the atmosphere of  Post World War II Southern charm. I’ll be recommending Carla Stewart’s Stardust when it releases in a few weeks.
Writing Tip for Today: What can a writer do to create a believable atmosphere in a novel?

  • Setting as Character. First on many writer’s lists is treating the novel’s setting as a character. This means not only referring often to the setting, so readers don’t forget what it’s like, but also writing about the setting in a way that reflects the character’s mood or goal or in some way enhances the novel’s ambiance.
  • Dialogue. Writers are advised to be restrained in writing dialects–all those dropped “gs” and phonetic spelling are hard on the reader’s eyes. Yet a sprinkling of idioms, foreign words or inflections can create a world for the reader. Rather than trying to record dialect word-for-word, insert a few strategically placed words to help the reader understand whether we’re in Scotland, The Bronx or the Deep South.
  • Hot Topics. If your book takes place during segregated times in America, as Stewart’s Stardust does, you can still avoid upsetting your readers with the “n” word or other offensive or hate speech. A debate rages about whether a novelist should be faithful to the time period (and thus recreate offensive verbiage or actions) or if the writer should be creative enough to get the essence of the matter without resorting to using epithets. If your novel include a “hot topic,” be cautious when you write about it. It’s tricky to get the essence across without turning off readers, who are much more sensitive nowadays. 

These are a few ways to create atmosphere. I’m sure there are more. Do you have a favorite tool for creating atmosphere in your work?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Fiction with Atmosphere

  1. Hey, Linda! Thanks for the shout out about Stardust. Creating atmosphere is one of my favorite things to do as a novelist. You really nailed it on your tips today. Thanks for reading Stardust!

    ps: It doesn’t come out until May, but it will be here before you know it!

    blessings my friend . . .

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