Don’t Forget the Mood Music

Don’t Forget the Mood Music

by Elizabeth Goddard

Have you ever seen a movie you would have enjoyed more if the music hadn’t fallen flat? Music plays a vital role in the emotional impact of a movie. It creates atmosphere and emotion. For the music to work effectively with the movie, it must be in the background and almost imperceptible to you as you’re caught up in the story.

Music can make or break a movie. The same is true for your novel.

Music in a movie lets you know when to be afraid or sit on the edge of your seat in a tense scene. It increases the force of the action. The right music creates meaning and is just as important as the cinematography and other elements of a movie. That’s true for your novel, too. I’m not talking about listening to music while you write, rather I’m drawing a parallel to how music can set mood, and your writing choices can do the same for your novel. You can create “music” with your words. As a novelist, it’s up to you to choose the right tools from your writer’s toolbox to create the perfect mood music within your stories.

Set your novel to the wrong music and you’ll miss the mark.

Mood is an often-forgotten important element in your story and is as vital to the life of your novel as plot, tension, character development, and setting.

But what exactly is mood in literature?  
Simply stated, it’s the emotional response or the feelings your writing creates in the reader. It’s easy enough to see how music creates various moods when it comes to movies. For instance, the kind of music that accompanies a horror flick creates a sense of terror in us. Music that accompanies romantic comedy makes us laugh or smile. Action packed movies meant for the man cave make us tense and chick flicks can require boxes of tissues. The eerie music that accompanies science fiction creeps some of us out. The point is that you somehow have to create the background music—the mood—in your novel.

Why is mood important?
Your novel means nothing if you don’t hook your readers on the deepest emotional level. It’s all about making that emotional connection. Once readers are hooked they’re in it for the whole ride. If your characters aren’t relatable on an emotional level and the right mood isn’t created, then you’ve lost the reader.

Mood is key to hooking and keeping them.

How do you create “music” that sets the mood for your story?First, know where you’re going. Know what emotional reaction you’re aiming for with the novel as a whole, and then also in each scene. For example, are you going for suspense, fear, hope, desperation, or joy?

Once you know what mood you’re trying to create, take advantage of basic writing tools to create the right mood music.  

Setting is the first crucial element in creating the mood you want in your story. For example, to create mood for a suspense novel you could use a curvy mountain road on a stormy night. A gloomy, crumbling mansion set on a cliff with crashing waves below. A cold empty warehouse. Place your protagonist in any of these settings and your reader will feel the sense of foreboding.

If you’re going for a light-hearted romance, you’ll want a bright internet café set in a small town. Or you could use a beautiful beach on a bright sunny day. You get the picture.

Then use the right words for the mood you’re creating. Of course, you’re a writer so you always strive to use the right words. When creating the right mood, word choice is a major player. Choose more menacing words for a suspenseful scene, adding to the suspenseful setting you’ve already selected. On the contrary, use light-hearted and fun words for a more playful mood. 

Next, pacing is essential to mood. Pacing is tied to using the right words in the appropriate types of sentences. Short, snappy sentences quicken the pace and coupled with the right word choices, can create a thrill ride or terror. Excitement or fury. On the other hand, long, flowing, and lyrical sentences can produce feelings of wonder or desperation.

In your novel, you’ll use different pacing throughout, much like the movements in a symphony—fast-paced or allegro, or slower, andante or adagio.

These are only a few of the tools from your writer’s toolbox. Use them well and you’ll have a symphony at your disposal to create the right “music” that will set the mood and effectively hook your reader until the satisfying finale.

Elizabeth Goddard is the bestselling author of more than thirty books, including the Carol Award-winning The Camera Never Lies. Her Mountain Cove series books have been finalists in the Daphne du Maurier Awards and the Carol Awards. Goddard is a seventh-generation Texan and can be found online at