Writing, Critique Partnerships and Other Stories

From a community of writers, critique partners and beta readers.

Mar 25, 2020

Matching Your Character’s Mood to the Setting

By Hallie Christensen.

Have you ever watched a Broadway play that was made into a feature film? There are many examples of these: The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia—I could go on. While there are several differences between a play and the film of that play, the one difference I want to focus on is camera angles.

On stage, an actor has to project their feelings and emotions through their voice and slightly exaggerated body language so the viewer sitting rows away in the balcony knows exactly how the actor feels toward a person or subject. In a film, the viewer is given the gift of close-ups of main characters to better view emotions and camera angles where side characters’ reactions can easily be seen and felt. This invention of close-ups and side angles allows the audience to fully understand the importance of any given conversation between characters and sets the mood and tone to their current setting.
As a writer, you have the hefty task of turning your writing, which is being read like a written play, into a visual work of art where the reader knows all the emotions from their characters and can visualize your book like a movie. The importance of “camera angles” in your writing is crucial. Let me demonstrate.
Below is a conversation between two women. The time period is sometime after WW2. They are walking through an abandoned home in Germany. I’ll let the scene explain the rest.

She rested her hand on the dresser, gripping it tightly. This dresser was not unlike the one in The Chronicles of Narnia. It could take a person into another world, but unlike the one in the fantastical children’s book that was full of magic and wonder, the entrance to this world was dark, full of fear, anxiety, and unknowing.
“I can’t,” she said.
“Just take your time,” said her friend and confidant. 
“I wanted to share this part of my life with you, but it’s too …” She couldn’t speak.
Anna rested her hand on top of Sophie’s and gave a slight smile. “Let me help you.”
The two women pushed the dresser aside, uncovering a well-hidden broken seam in the wallpaper in the shape of a square, hinges barely visible. Knowing fingers gripped the corners of the small door and slowly pried it open. Inside lay a small attic space, just barely big enough for two people. Anna pulled out her flashlight and filled the tiny space with light. Sophie gasped. It was just as she remembered. 

Given the time frame and place in this scene, you could probably guess that Sophie was Jewish and hid away in this attic space during the Holocaust in WW2. Sophie wanted to share this dark part of her life with Anna but finds herself suddenly weak and hesitant as undoubtedly hundreds of painful memories flood her mind. The scene is written well enough, but we feel almost little to no emotion from our characters. We know from the setting that this is a darker part of the story, but we need to feel that from the characters, as well. Read the scene again, below, and see if you can tell and feel a difference.    

She rested her hand on the dresser, gripping it tightly. This dresser was not unlike the one in The Chronicles of Narnia. It could take a person into another world, but unlike the one in the fantastical children’s book that was full of magic and wonder, the entrance to this world was dark, full of fear, anxiety, and unknowing.
“I can’t,” she said. Her voice held a newfound tremor. Sophie could hear her heart begin to race. She didn’t think this would happen.  A deep crease formed between her eyebrows. She thought she had gotten past this.
“Just take your time,” said her friend and confidant in a calm tone. Her mouth frowned in worry and uncertainty. Anna could see the pain in Sophie’s face, but hesitated a few feet from her, unsure of what Sophie needed. She reached out a tender hand, but stopped, and brought it back to her side.  
“I wanted to share this part of my life with you, but it’s too …” She couldn’t speak. A warm tear pierced her eye, and she was transported back to years ago, those same warm tears in her eyes every time she had to touch this exact dresser.  
Anna rested her hand on top of Sophie’s and gave a slight smile. Her heart was full of love for her friend and immense sadness at what Sophie had suffered. This time she would not have to suffer alone. If only Anna could give her a little peace. “Let me help you.”
The two women pushed the dresser aside, uncovering a well-hidden broken seam in the wallpaper in the shape of a square, hinges barely visible. Knowing fingers gripped the corners of the small door and slowly pried it open. Inside lay a small attic space, just barely big enough for two people. Anna pulled out her flashlight and filled the tiny space with light. Sophie gasped and put her hands to her mouth. The warm tear slid down her cheek. She felt light-headed and stumbled back, but Anna was right there to catch her. It was just as Sophie remembered.

The difference between this section of the story and the prior is camera angles. We get close-ups of Sophie’s face, the tears in her eyes, the crease between her eyebrows. The reader can tell she is in pain and is struggling with the memories of her past.

Anna is seen through side angles. We see her wanting to help her friend, but unsure of how to do it. Her face conveys that she is hesitant, along with her hand that reaches out to touch Sophie’s at first but draws back. We feel more emotion and depth from these two characters than the previous section, and it adds to the overall power of the setting. The face is a great place to start when adding emotion. What do the eyes say, the mouth? Are there creases forming in the forehead? Then move on to body language. Are they standing still, is there unease, are they shaking with fear, is their heart racing? 

A reader wants to know what your characters are feeling in every situation. Give your writing camera angles and show your readers the full emotion of each setting, making each scene in your novel intensify with pathos.



-------------



About the Author: Hallie Christensen 
Hallie lives in Alabama with her husband and has been writing since she was a child attending Young Author Conferences. She works full-time at a junior college library and part-time as an online English instructor. She enjoys writing in her spare time and her current ventures can be seen on Wattpad. She is self-published and currently working hard towards traditional publishing - Good luck to all on this route! As a Critique Partner on CritiqueMatch.com, she enjoys reading other writers’ works and receiving feedback on her own writing. Hallie writes mostly magical realism novels and chapter books for Young Adult and Middle Grade. She has a book review blog on Instagram. Her current writings and book reviews can all be found on her website.