How to Write Atmosphere
- Choose an atmosphere. Think about the specific emotions you want your readers to feel – Fear? Anger? Frustration? Excitement? Triumph? Maybe there’s not even a word for the emotion you want to capture! That’s OK too – it doesn’t matter if you have a name for the emotion, as long as you can imagine some details and images to express it.
- Show, don’t tell. This is the most important aspect of writing atmosphere. If you just say “it was very gloomy and creepy in the house,” you’re naming an atmosphere but not creating Instead, you have to be more suggestive and subtle to create atmosphere.
- Drop a few telling details. Instead of just saying everything outright, drop hints – pick a few key details that generate an atmosphere.
- Avoid clichés. There are many old tricks for creating atmosphere that have just been overused. For example, to create a creepy atmosphere you might be tempted to say, “the floorboards creaked underfoot,” or “the wind howled against the window.” That’s actually not much better than just saying “it was creepy,” because these images are so overused that they’ve become clichés.
- Use metaphor and simile. Metaphors and similes are a great way to generate atmosphere. A well-chosen comparison really sets the mood for what you’re saying. For example: “a dusty candelabra swayed crookedly from the ceiling like a noose.” This grim simile suggests creepiness without just saying “it was creepy.”
When to Use Atmosphere
Atmosphere is a feature of creative writing, and doesn’t really have a meaning in the context of formal essays. Within creative writing though, it’s important across all genres and types of writing. Atmosphere is especially important in poetry, where arguably the whole point is to create atmosphere with your words. Poems (usually) don’t tell stories, but instead try to capture the whole emotional experience of a single moment. In doing so, they rely heavily on an emotional atmosphere. However, atmosphere is also an indispensable part of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction.