Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mood Swings

by Allison Pang

We finally reach the outskirts of Old Town and the fog thickens around us in a cloak woven of soot and ancient rust. The coverage is deceptive, making it seem as though the lower bowels of the city are cleaner than its wont. But like a diseased whore, all it takes is a stiff breeze from the fetid bay to remove the illusion, the skirts lifted to reveal the rotting core beneath.

Oiled puddles stinking of fish guts and damp shit coat the cobblestones in layers of filth that make it hard to walk. You get used to the smell the way you get used to never being warm or never having a belly that stops biting. 

~~ my current WIP

Mood is weird word.

In some odd way I sort of associate it as a programming variable  - whether you run a set command or a get command, its influence on writing can't be denied.

In the above passage I attempted to set a mood - the current WIP is set in a sort of dystopian city under the rule of some not so pleasant people. The protagonists are forced to live on the streets in terrible circumstances. (Explaining it that way is rather boring, don't you think? Hopefully the passage itself conveys some of the wretchedness of the day-to-day situation.) The point is, I could have just said the streets were dirty and my protag was hungry. But pulling in the senses and weaving them together paints a much more interesting picture - this place is crawling with nastiness - but the protag is so matter-of-fact about her description it becomes clear that this is something she's forced to live with all the time.

As has been discussed earlier this week, the five senses can be used in powerful ways, though I think sight tends to be used the most. Never underestimate the power of scent, though. I tend to use smells a lot in my writing, probably because I'm personally rather sensitive to it. I find it somewhat more visceral than just describing what something looks like.

As an author I'm often asked in interviews if I do anything special to get in the mood to write - and that's a bit of a weighted question. On one hand, sure - it's much easier to write if I'm in the "mood." As James mentioned earlier this week, there are certain tricks we can use to soothe the muse - music, a change of location, a warm-up exercise. I know some writers who have a specific set of rituals they perform to get into the right mindset. They might light a candle, for  example - after a while, their writer-brain starts to associate the scent with writing and that helps trigger the right mood to work.

This is all well and good, but I do usually encourage newbie writers not to get too dependent on these rituals. Deadlines don't wait for moods, after all.

Of course, certain types of scenes might require different moods as well - listening to sweeping, epic music might put me in the right mindset to work on a battle scene. If I need to write a fight scene, I might pull up some Bruce Lee on YouTube. If I'm writing something smutty, I might look at dirty pictures. Whatever works, though for the most part it's really more a question of getting my ass in the chair then it is about finding the right mood.

Oddly enough, even though I don't usually have a playlist for books, the current WIP seems to respond best when I'm listening to Mumford & Sons. Which isn't very dystopian at all, but there's a lot of lovely angst to draw from and that fits my protagonist just fine. :)

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