Atmosphere is an important part of fiction writing. The reader needs to feel as though they are right in the midst of the scene. Atmosphere can be built over a few paragraphs by introducing and making use of the five senses. Before starting to write, ascertain what type of feeling is needed; joyful, melancholy, fearful, loneliness etc.
Introduce touch by describing textures and surfaces.
The dress was so sheer that it slid through her fingers like liquid silk.
The gravel was rough under her cheek; hard lumps that grazed and bruised.
The pillow was textured like a soft marshmallow.
Smell is a powerful tool for setting a scene.
The fabric was permeated with pungent garlic and rich curries.
Her fragrance lingered like honeysuckle on a warm afternoon.
Acrid smoke mushroomed into the house, searing and choking.
Taste is closely associated to smell and they work well together.
The coffee was smooth and strong with a hint of sweet caramel.
The flavor of lemon burst into her mouth, puckering her lips.
The liquid tasted soapy and caught the back of his throat.
Hearing creates atmosphere as well as painting a picture of the scene.
Crashing waves, thundered across the rocks.
The bird’s wings beat a frantic tattoo against expansive glass windows.
His breath escaped as a slight rasp as he collapsed against her.
This is the most common sense that writers draw upon.
Her skin was grey like clouds on a winter morning.
The net was bursting with fish, silvery with peach blushes along their sides.
Turquoise and sapphire streams merged before mingling with deep navy waters.
Combining All Five
A skilled writer will combine the use of the five senses to present a well rounded story that comes alive to the reader. Aim at including all five senses in a longer piece or a couple of them in a short paragraph as shown below:
The moon was buttery and round that night, cream against ink, spilling pale shafts of light into the wood shed. He selected some blue gum logs and one by one, split them and split them again. Then stacked them in a box, aromatic resin leaking across his fingers like myrrh. He paused for a moment breathing in the fresh, woody fragrance. Pondering on what he was about to do.
With practice, it becomes easier and easier to create a story with atmosphere. Make a habit of observing different situations and take note of the textures and tastes, sounds and smells encountered. Many beginners make the mistake of only describing what they see in their minds. Don’t neglect the other senses; learn to write a fully rounded story, full of atmosphere.
Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.