Prepared by: Patricia Johnson
Posted on: Sun, 22 Apr 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 5 May 2002
Reposted on: Sun, 14 May 2006
Atmosphere has several meanings to a
fiction writer. The most common
involve the setting. Here the writer brings out essentials of the
scenes and overall story. These include place; time in history or the
present; physical characteristics, such as weather and traits of the
place identified through the five senses; characters and important
that are present; and last, the time of day. The author may also create
and use other properties to develop the atmosphere.
Another aspect of atmosphere is tone. This
ties in with some or all
the setting characteristics just mentioned, but it is different. It
depends on the writer's ability to instill the narrative voice with a
basic nature that defines the story. The atmospheric tone is described
in adjectives such as controlling, wistful, forceful, spiritual,
humorous, ironic, evil, conforming. Add some of your own ideas to this
There are perhaps as many descriptors of
atmospheric tone as there
good stories. Tone is apparent in great literature. Think of Victor
Hugo's novels, the tone is often solemn. Hemmingway managed to set a
lonely, futile tone for The Old Man and The Sea. In The Color Purple by
Alice Walker, the tone is one of triumph and spirituality against all
The tone may vary from scene to scene and
from one character to
But despite this ability of tone to take twists and turns and even
appear contradictory, it remains underneath fundamentally the same
throughout the story.
In 300 words or less, use atmospheric tone
to influence a character
do something. Come up with your own idea, or use one of the following
1.) Have the main character arrive at a
party. Have him/her find the
somber atmosphere of the party so oppressive that
he/she decides to
2.) Introduce a character that is unable
to be spontaneous. Have the
playful tone of the surroundings enable this
character to become
spontaneous and uninhibited.
3.) Use a very irresponsible character;
throw him/her into a serious
scene, where s/he is forced to be responsible.
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Sat, 28 Apr 2001
Thanks to everyone who participated in the
tone exercise. Each of
did a great job. As I wrote my own exercise submission, I was surprised
at the influence the setting gave to my ideas, how it not only served
a background, but enabled the story to develop. Using the setting and
keeping it in mind during the writing process can enhance a story. I
hope each of you had good experiences along this line, and it would be
great to hear them in a discussion forum.
All the submissions were interesting and
unique. Several involved
children, and the children managed to set the tone/atmosphere in the
stories in a fresh way. Also, many people used the setting of a party
as suggested in the exercise notes. Parties are an easy setting to
bring out a variety of different tones by bringing a diverse group of
I appreciated the thoughtful critiques
everyone gave to this
Several critters pointed out interesting observations that I had not
noticed, which is one of the great strengths of having this group!
Everyone learns together.
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: May 12, 2002
Hi Practice-w members,
The Atmosphere - Tone submissions produced
atmospheres that were
Most of the stories carefully wove the atmosphere into the plot and in
the characters. Some of the submissions had the tone change and/or
the story developed. Even when the atmosphere echoed the story,
the story was incomplete - but the tone was always apparent.
Many of the submissions used weather
conditions and nature for tone.
natural conditions reflected a variety of different tones. There was
in the tones in the submissions. They developed the plot of the story
Some critiques mentioned how the tone
entered into every aspect of a
submission. Others found little relation between the tone and the plot.
critiques pointed out that the tone of the story allowed them to feel
story and be moved by it.
Tone can add much to a story. It can help
develop the plot, add to
twists and turns. It can be a point of development for characters in
as well. It adds meaning and feeling.
All the submissions used tone to express
atmosphere. Thanks to
such terrific submissions.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.