The writer sat at his keyboard, the blank page staring back at him accusingly. With trepidation he began to type, his fingers tapping the keys like a hesitant woodpecker. His eyes darting back and forth towards the telltale clock. His deadline drew near…
For this month’s meeting, Sutton Writers were joined on Zoom by Alex Davis, creative writing tutor and Associate Lecturer at the University of Derby, to tackle the thorny subjects of description, atmosphere and mood.
Description is often an important part of storytelling, but it’s easy to find ourselves writing too much of it because we want the reader to know exactly what we mean.
Alex challenged us to look at our writing differently. To consider what really mattered to the story and if our descriptions were providing useful information to the reader, helping to build characters or atmosphere. If not, we could probably do without it.
Most people have some idea what an office looks like, but what about a time machine? Did we really need to describe a businessman’s suit and tie or was that time better spent on the alien who abducts him? But he also got us thinking about when the mundane can be important. How we can spend more time on that office if the characters spend a lot of the story there. Or how the businessman’s dishevelled clothes could tell us something about their character.
We then went on to learn about creating an atmosphere and how it builds upon the plot. You can have a hundred monsters or an unusual crime, but if you can’t create the right atmosphere the reader won’t find them scary or intriguing.
An important lesson I learned was just how critical language is to creating that atmosphere. The words you choose – for example whether someone walks, tiptoes or ambles from a room – can give an entirely different mood to a scene, from a purposeful stride to fleeing in terror.
And as one of Alex’s exercises showed, the same setting can be given a very different atmosphere depending on how you choose to describe it. A sunset can give a feeling of familiar warmth or a fearful sense of ending, depending on the words used.
Overall I found this to be a fun meeting and Alex an engaging speaker who got the whole group involved throughout. His use of short exercises and examples drawn from both published works and his own creations also really showed the skills he was teaching in practical terms.
I came away feeling that I had a better understanding of when to use description and how to create an atmosphere, but also when not to go into too much detail and bog down a story. I can already see several places where I can use this in my current work.
Oh, and as for our mysterious writer?
Wiping the sweat from his brow the writer hit send. Leaning back he let out a sigh of relief. 500 words had flown by and his task was complete… until next time!