Atmosphere and Mood

scary-outsideThe director in theatre has control of atmosphere and mood, working with the actors to create a particular feeling in the audience at any given moment.

This is helped by lighting and sound, along with set design. For example, a dim light and scary music produces an eerie feeling even before the actors speak, and they intensify the mood in the delivery of lines.

As the writer, you have to do everything yourself. You need to show the atmosphere by the way you use words. And we should be able to recognise the mood of the dialogue without being told what it is.

Consider these two examples:
The place was silent. “Is anyone there?” Jack said quietly.
Jack tensed in the silence. “Is anyone there?”

In the first, we are told the place is silent and that he spoke quietly.
In the second, we know he spoke quietly because he tensed in the silence.
See the difference? The first is telling, the second is showing.

Next we consider description, which you need to evoke atmosphere. What you don’t want is to dump a load of information about the environment right in the middle of the action. Don’t stop to describe. Weave your description into the action.

You need only describe what is seen by the character whose head you are in – at any given moment. Get that? We’re back to moment by moment.

Consider what you do when you walk into an environment you’ve never been in before. Do your eyes travel minutely over the whole area, taking in every little detail? No, what you do is make a sweep of the area, taking in what you need to know right then. Later, you might take time to look at details.

If your character is in the middle of action, he’s not going to stop to check how many chairs and tables are in the room. He’ll take in enough not to trip over something (unless you want him to – good trick as he missed seeing that item). And he’ll be looking for specifics. For example, the nearest window so he can get out, or something to hide behind.

We left Jack in a warehouse in an earlier post:
“Jack dropped and rolled. The bullet flew wide. Jack kicked out, connecting with an ankle. Then he was up and running. Out of the light. Making for cover behind the warehouse shelves.”

We will already know he’s in a warehouse. Now we know there is shelving and not a lot of light. Once Jack is safe, he can peer out to see where his attacker is, and we need to describe what he sees from there:

“Jack scanned along the steel pillars, squinting to see if his quarry had ducked behind the stacked boxes lying under the single naked bulb.”

The description here is brief, but it keeps the action going and moves the story along, and also generates atmosphere with the single naked bulb. Jack is keeping the mood going by scanning and squinting rather than simply looking.

This should work well with children as they are naturally succinct and don’t go much for description. Once they know how to make it work for them like this, they get quite canny at holding atmosphere and mood.

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Bailey

Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers. Find out more at

Listen To Your Child

listening-to-childThere are a number of things we can do to make our children’s lives happier, whether a parent or teacher small changes in how we behave can have a big effect.

One of the most important things is being able to listen. We all instinctively know this but perhaps neglect it when it’s our own kids. As a parent you will probably be hit by a barrage of communication all day and it is very tempting to just switch off. If you are busy or trying to concentrate on something then again you won’t be inclined to listen to what your child wants to say. Continue reading

Handwriting For Kids

good-handwritingIt may be unfashionable to talk about quality of handwriting, but if a child does not learn to write clearly and legibly, he will be at a disadvantage.

In this day and age where all children are well versed in the use of computer keyboards and other high tech means of producing a written page of work, it can be argued that they don’t need to be able to write well by hand.

It is true that essays and formal presentations would normally now be typed and word processing is an essential skill which must be learned. Continue reading

Answering The Question: GCSE English Language

examsI have covered aspects of the importance of answering the question earlier in my blogs. This time I would like to look at examination questions. In many ways this is the most vital time for your child because so many marks can be lost at this level.

Here is part of a question from a specimen OCR GCSE Examination Paper for English which may help to show what I mean. The candidates had to read eye-witness accounts of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. This excerpt relates to one of them. Continue reading


stage-focusStill concentrating on this series of approaching writing from the perspective of a theatre director, let us consider focus. What does it mean?

In theatre, focus is that point where, at any given moment, the audience has its attention. This is quite deliberate. The director decides exactly where he wants to direct attention. He can then use various methods to direct the audience to look at that point.

Dialogue naturally helps this process along, because the audience tends to look at whichever actor is speaking. But a director can change this by having actors look towards the area of focus – an actor who is silent or a doorway. A sudden sound, or lighting can be used for the same purpose. Continue reading

Best Computer For Your Child

computer-laptopThough we are on the brink of the summer holidays, a new year of school will soon be upon us. Your child may well be starting school or even moving up perhaps from primary to the seniors. You may also be thinking of what computer to get your child next. There is no doubt that having access to computer equipment is important to your child’s education and also their ability to survive and compete in the modern world.

Firstly you should ascertain what the intended school’s policy is on personal equipment. Some schools will allow or even encourage laptops and tablets, others may provide them and others may not allow students to bring their equipment to school. Continue reading

A Holiday Musical Challenge

music-sumer-transcriptSumer is a cumen in – famous words from a mid 13th century manuscript.

Famous for being the earliest known example of music written to be sung in parts (or counterpoint), this lively tune, once learnt, never forgotten, has popped up in the most unlikely places in recent years. It was sung as part of the opening ceremony of the 1972 Olympics and even appeared in the children’s programme Bagpuss (1974). It has featured in pop songs and symphonies and is perhaps our best known, medieval piece of music.

You can listen to an excellent performance by the Hilliard ensemble on YouTube. You will hear the first part start singing and when they have finished the first bar (there is a cross over the bar line), the second part commences. They continue singing in a round (as in Frère Jacques or London’s Burning). Meanwhile another part sings the 5th line over and over and another part sings the 6th line over and over. Continue reading

Read The Question (Part Two)

understanding-questionsThis is my second blog on the importance of reading the question correctly. I have already covered some ways which can help: reading the question three times; underlining the important words and recognising which questions are likely to be open to misinterpretation.

Today I want to look at reading the question in Comprehension tasks. There are several types of questions in Comprehension. However, the most important step is reading and UNDERSTANDING the question, no matter what type it is. Some questions are straightforward:

‘What time did the train arrive?’ : ‘Who won the race?’ Continue reading

Timing: Changing The Pace

chair-for-directorContinuing with my series of blogs approaching writing as from the eye of a theatre director, let’s look at timing. First, what is timing?

In theatre, timing is about when, how and where an actor says a line or performs an action. It’s about the impact of pauses, delivery, action and freezes. It’s also about the relative speed of the action. Tension needs slower action; excitement gets faster action; thinking has a pause, and shock will cause stillness. Continue reading

What Is Happening To ICT?

kids-computersThere may well be some confusion in schools and with parents as the National Curriculum has replaced ICT (Information Communication Technology) with a new subject of Computing. New GCSEs have also appeared labelled Computer Science, which may muddy the waters even further.

To try and clarify this situation is not easy as there are no clear guidelines or indications as to which way a school will choose to go. However, the subject of ICT is a broad based subject to impart digital skills and knowledge across a broad spectrum of technology, which includes a number of popular Microsoft applications such as Word and PowerPoint. Computing itself encompasses some of this but extends more into programming and a much more technical knowledge of computers themselves. Computer Science therefore is again even more technical and programming based. Continue reading