It’s pretty easy to tell when you’re in a good mood, bad mood, need-more-food mood… but even your favorite stories have moods, too, and they impact how you feel while reading.
What was the last story to make you cry? Laugh? Feel nostalgic, optimistic, or frightened? You can thank the story’s mood in large part for evoking those feelings for you.
Definition of Mood in Writing
In literature, mood is a device that evokes certain feelings for readers through a work’s setting, tone, theme, and diction. It’s also referred to as the “atmosphere” of a piece.
Have you ever read a story that sent chills down your spine, or just felt eerie?
Take Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, for example. As the narrator slowly approaches a compound bordered by human heads on stakes, it’s safe to say that the atmosphere created is similar to that of a horror film. (If you haven’t read the book, just watch Apocalypse Now to see what I mean).
In scenes like these, the author uses tone and diction to establish the creepy setting makes me, the reader, sense the eerie mood.
Every piece of writing has a mood, whether it’s a 500-page novel or a short poem. One of the best ways to determine the mood of a piece is to ask yourself how it makes you feel as you read it.
What images or feelings come to mind? Do you feel frightened, hopeful, reflective? Most words that can be used to describe emotions can also be used to describe the mood of a story.
There can be several moods present within one piece of writing, since different scenes might contain different moods. However, it’s usually easy to identify a predominant mood that is present in most of the story.
Mood vs. Tone
Tone reflects the speaker’s feelings or attitude toward the subject, whereas mood is the feeling experienced by the reader.
Tone is important when it comes to creating mood. The attitude of the speaker will likely influence the way they tell the story, which in turn influences how readers feel while reading it.
Diction (an author’s word choice) can also help to create the mood and atmosphere in a piece of literature. Every word carries a positive, negative, or neutral connotation, so authors must choose their words carefully to create their intended atmosphere.
Why is Mood Important?
Because mood evokes emotional responses in readers, it helps to establish an emotional connection between a piece of literature and its audience. Once readers feel emotionally impacted by a piece, they will be better able to understand the central message, or theme, of the work.
30 Words to Describe Mood
Below are 30 examples of words that might be used to describe mood in literature. As you will notice, most words that describe emotions or feelings can also be used to describe mood.
Download the list of 30 words to describe mood to help you identify moods in different types of writing.
Examples of Mood in Literature
The following are prime examples of how skilled writers can convey mood.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Now I had suddenly a nearer view, and its first result was to make me throw my head back as if before a blow…I went carefully from post to post with my glass… These round knobs were not ornamental… they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing—food for thought and also for vultures…They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way.
Notice how Conrad builds suspense by not immediately revealing what these “round knobs” are, instead stating that they were “not ornamental… expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing.” This heightens the eerie, horrific mood for readers.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
“Do you know, I always thought unicorns were fabulous monsters, too? I never saw one alive before!”
“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”
In Alice’s Adventures inWonderland, Lewis Carroll uses fantastical imagery and curious settings to create a whimsical mood. Things like unicorns and hookah-smoking caterpillars are presented as if nothing is out of the ordinary, which helps to establish this dreamlike feeling.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.
Slaughterhouse-Five offers a great example of the difference between tone and mood. Throughout the novel, the author maintains a mostly deadpan, unemotional tone. Interestingly, this detached treatment of the atrocities of war is precisely what makes the mood melancholic and emotional for readers.
Mood in Literature
All good literature makes us feel something, whether it inspires us, makes us cry, or reminds us of another time. These feelings bring us together and make us feel connected with the story. They remind us that we’re not alone in our feelings.
Through tone, diction, imagery, and theme, writers can create a specific mood and use their artistic skills to make us feel any of a wide array of emotions.
What’s your favorite example of mood in literature? Share your thoughts in the comments below!