When thinking about how to create the right atmosphere in your novel, your  aim should be to stimulate the reader’s emotions. With the correct atmosphere,  your reader may be filled with dread, wonder or awe; he could be outraged or  feel serene. Use the suggestions made below to help you create the right  atmosphere so as to manipulate your reader’s feelings and moods.

Choosing Your Ambience

Right from the very start of your novel, you must know what kind of  atmosphere you are trying to create. Is it a world that is cold and harsh or one  that is heart-warming and soft? The former presupposes that your story is set in  a place that is unforgiving and life is difficult. The latter suggests a place  where love and happiness are easy to attain. The convention in the publishing  industry is that the more serious the tale, the darker and more sombre the  atmosphere.

Use of Language to Create Atmosphere

The following are 3 ways in which you can use language to emphasise the  atmosphere in your novel.

1. Creating atmospheric images.

Many times, the mood is set by how you describe a particular scene. Your aim  should be to paint strong mental images with the use of adjectives and adverbs  to give texture to what you’re saying.

Let’s look at part of a sentence from the opening scene of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts: ‘… that looked down upon a busy street, …’ The noun  ‘street’ is neutral and tells us very little. However, the moment you add the  word ‘busy’ in front of ‘street’, the mental image created is different. The  street probably has lots of traffic, people milling about and street vendors.  Can you see how using one adjective has radically changed the image and  atmosphere of the scene?

2. Mood makers.

One of the best ways to lighten or darken a scene is to use the weather.  Analyse published novels and you’ll see that it always rains when a car breaks  down; there’s always a storm (or an approaching storm) when the protagonist is  about to enter a haunted house. A couple will usually kiss under a clear and  moon-lit sky.

3. The five senses.

One of the best ways to create an atmosphere in any scene is to use the five  senses of touch, sight, taste, sound and hearing. Make every scene a feast for  the five senses – tell your readers how the food tasted, how cold a gun felt to  the touch or how enticing the smell of the female villain’s perfume was.

John Ling, author of Fourteen Bullets, says as follows: ‘What most  people don’t realize is that stories are not movies. … Therefore, if you rely on  sight, your stories will end up being very flat. A solution is to use what  novelist John Barth called triangulation. Triangulation suggests that you should  cut down on sight, and focus on other senses such as smell, hearing and touch.  You will get a well-rounded story this way…’

When you put in the effort and create atmospheric scenes in your novel,  you’re effectively allowing the reader to make an emotional investment in the  events playing out. When the tale is over, you can rest assured that your  readers will appreciate your work. Indeed, fill every scene you write with  atmosphere and no publisher will be able to resist publishing your novel.



  • Roberts, Gregory David. Shantaram St. Martin’s Griffin; Reprint  edition (Nov 2005)
  • WritersandArtists.co.uk. Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C  Black (June 30, 2010)
  • Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel  Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work.  Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).
  • Ling, John. Fourteen Bullets Silver Lake Publishing (15 Jan  2005)
  • Sundararaj, Aneeta. Diamond  Writing: An Interview with John Ling (2 August 2006).


By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101: http://suite101.com/article/how-to-create-the-right-atmosphere-in-your-novel-a383013

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