Gettin’ in the mood

Whenever I’m working on a novel, I find it helpful to immerse myself in sensory details relating to the project.  Getting into the “mood” of the piece I’m working on definitely influences how I write dialogue and descriptions.  It shapes the pacing and helps me conjure an image in my mind, giving life and color to the world and characters I’m writing.

So far, in my fledgling writing career, I’ve got two main techniques for getting in the mood:  surrounding myself with images and listening to music. (But I’m always looking for new tricks to add to the toolkit – so share your ideas in the comments!)

When I was working on Blood Red Sun I downloaded lots of pics of the desert (and was even lucky enough to take a trip to the desert to snap pics of my own and make notes on the taste, smell, and feel of the place).  I also surrounded myself with drawings and photos of murals, sites, and artifacts from the ancient Aztecs (on who the people in the novel were modeled).  This was all good visual grist for the mill.  From an aural point of view, I created a playlist in iTunes with lots of music from epic film soundtracks (think Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, Stardust, Last of the Mohicans, Dune, and so on).  Much of it wasn’t culturally appropriate, but it captured that sweeping, dramatic feel I was going for.  I’d listen while writing and it really helped me immerse myself and shut out the distractions of the modern world.

My latest novel project is set in three different times and places: modern day New York City, the Ice Age Americas, and a British archaeological expedition in 1925-26 Iraq.  For this latter segment, I’ve had a lot of luck with listening to big band era jazz tunes out of New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and even Britain itself.  I also dug up a bunch of great historical photos from the actual archaeological expedition the fictionalization is based on – their grainy black and white frames show dapper gentlemen in their knickers, suits, and fedoras posing in front of massive, dusty ziggurats.  Beside them stand slim, elegant women in cloche hats and coat frocks, shading their eyes from the sun’s glare.  Scattered across my big glass desk, they smile up and remind me I’m not in Kansas anymore.

What are your tricks for immersing yourself in the worlds you write about?

2 thoughts on “Gettin’ in the mood

  1. EF Kelley

    Bit of a method writer here. If I’m feeling a scene, I can write it. So, I know what books or films make me happy, sad, angry, etc… Putting on one of those usually does the trick, though it’s hard to write with a film running. Music is more sustainable.

    Fun stuff. 🙂

  2. seamusbayne

    I am a pretty heavy user of media to set my mood. I listen to music as I write and edit and I make specific choices about what I am playing. Pandora is actually great for this. I create a MS station for the project, or in some cases several.

    I also have some scenes from movies which just get me going. Those scenes are fire up my emotions and get me in the state I want to be in.

    I also read speeches for inspiration in language. Churchill for example is kind of awesome.

    Finally I read other writers who are telling stories in the same head space of what I am writing about.


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