1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Style What does the 'mood of a story' mean?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Jan 7, 2016.

    I've seen this a lot and I've always wondered what this means. I've always thought it meant whether or not a story was light/happy, dark/foreboding, depressing, etc. But then I've heard of the terms "taking itself seriously" and "not taking itself too seriously". That's different, right?

    Here's a hypothetical example. Suppose I'm writing a story set during World War II in Nazi-occupied France. Would the mood have to be dark and depressing because of the setting, or could it be kind of light and cheerful? Let's say the story focused on something entirely unrelated to the Nazis, but the setting just so happened to be set in Nazi-occupied France. Would that change the mood of the overall work? Or would it be roughly the same?

    In rough tangent to this: what does it mean when a story either does or doesn't take itself seriously? I assume it would if it wanted to have a good plot, but does it really mean what sort of things the plot deals with? A jewelry heist in Nazi-occupied Paris can be as serious or comedic as it wants depending on the overall story?

    Thoughts?
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm...maybe a story set in Nazi-occupied territory isn't the easiest example to use to study tone. I can't believe that any 'ordinary' activity taking place in that location at that time would be lighthearted. I might be wrong, but trying to inject levity into that kind of situation might come across as flippant. That might be the tone you want, but I'd be cautious.

    However, if you take a more ordinary scenario, the writing can achieve almost any tone you want. And tone sets mood, doesn't it? A bank heist can be played as a farce, as a comedy, as a satire, as a thriller, as a mystery, even as a romance or a historical/news event. If your characters and situation seem lighthearted and the stakes merely a game to the participants, this should probably create a superficial, easy-reading mode. If the characters and situation are serious, and the stakes are high, then the tone will probably be more serious. This doesn't mean the serious story can't have humour in it, but I think it's the nature of the stakes that determine a story's mood more than anything else.

    In other words, if the bank heist fails, are the characters likely to escape unscathed and go try some other way to get easy money? That would probably be a lighthearted romp. If the characters are desperate for money, are likely to be hung if they get caught, and the likelihood of them being caught is high, then the story will probably have a more sombre mood.

    I'd say focus on the stakes in your story. That will probably determine the mood.
     
  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The TV comedy series 'Allo! 'Allo! was set in Nazi-occupied France. That worked (voted 13th best British sitcom, ran for 10 years), although my father (who fought in the war) felt it was disrespectful to those who had fought and died.

    So, yes, you CAN write comedy about dark times...sometimes it's the only thing you CAN write!
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I wasn't suggesting you can't. I was just suggesting that a writer needs to be cautious about it. And that it's a pretty extreme example for the nature of this thread.
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    @jannert - Yeah, looking back now, I don't know why I went with the Nazi route. :p I could've easily just said ‘A story set in the American Midwestern territories about a bunch of outlaws robbing banks and trains for money.’ Let's...just pretend I didn't use the Nazi example. :D

    But I like what you said about the stakes defining the mood of the story, and it makes a whole lot of sense. If the outlaws are robbing to get enough money to buy the medicine needed to cure their leader from a serious illness, and they know they'll be hung or shot if caught, the mood is going to be very serious and tense.

    Or take the movie Titanic. The moment the ship hit the iceberg, the mood very quickly shifted from a lighthearted romance fluff to a horrific, desperate fight for survival for everyone involved. Even the humor could be dark if the main character (hypothetical and mine) was using dark humor and snark to keep him/herself sane in a otherwise chaotic and hopeless situation.

    Just out of curiosity, if the stakes were still high, but the MC didn't really take it seriously, does that change the mood entirely or would it still be kept the same?
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    If you mean that the stakes are life-and-death but the mc doesn't take them seriously, I think that would likely intensify the mood. I'm thinking of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, in which Lyobov Andreevna doesn't take seriously the dire financial state she is in, giving a ball when she has no money to pay the musicians. When Lopakhin bursts in with the news that he has bought the cherry orchard, she is devastated (and if you see it performed, the mood is gut-wrenching, even if you think she kind of got what she deserved).
     
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  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Sounds like I ought to read/watch The Cherry Orchard. :D

    I can see how it'll make the situation more dire. It's like, "Are you blind?! Do you not realize the stakes in this, and you're off acting like it's no big deal?"
     
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  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or Billy Liar...on the surface a comedy, but the real story is incredibly poignant and sad.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Then there's Catch-22 (not the film; the film is garbage), which is very funny the first time you read it, bitter the second time and philosophical the third.
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    La Vita e bella (film) is exactly what you're talking about.

    "When an open-minded Jewish librarian and his son become victims of the Holocaust, he uses a perfect mixture of will, humor and imagination to protect his son from the dangers around their camp."
     
  11. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Did you see the movie Life is beautiful? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118799/ if not it's an excellent example of how to portray something tragic in another way than the most obvious. Plus it's the most heartbreaking movie I think I've ever seen.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No I haven't seen that movie, but I've heard only good things about it.
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    The mood of a war story doesn't have to be dark and/or depressing.

    Hogan's Heroes (comedy) was set in Nazi-occupied Germany/France during WWII. It was lighthearted and helped heal some of the psychological wounds suffered during the war, not just for audiences, but also for those in front of the camera. Almost all the actors who played Germans were German or Austrian Jews (Werner Klemperer, Howard Cain) who either fled the holocaust or survived concentration camps (Leon Askin, Johan [John] Banner, Robert Clary).

    Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy definitely didn't take itself seriously. It's meant to be a romp through space and time, pure entertainment.

    The Fountainhead did take itself seriously. It was trying to head off capitalism's destruction of artistic endeavour.

    The best approach is: write what you write to the best of your abilities. Let the finished work stand on its own merits.
     
  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    It would kill your suspense. You're biggest challenge would be establishing this is your world and character up front so that your readers don't get frustrated.
    I tried doing something similar on a story where my mc tried to bluff and ignore his brother's transformation because he was a weak person not up to handling the situation. I though I had handled it well - showing that he ran off when emotions got muddled, was irresponsible, but half the critiquers didn't get it. They still thought he wasn't taking it seriously and they were split on his reactions.
    I think it was because I had chosen to do something outside of normal and once you choose that you really have to make sure every motivation, action, reaction is understood - more so than a 'normal' response.

    You can do it but you'll have your work cut out for you. The beginning really has to set the tone.
     
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  15. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    The mood of a story is hard to explain. It's just the MOOD. The underlying feeling of the book. Something can be happy and good on the outside but the mood of it can be dark and sad. You can write the happiest story about a boy learning to write a bike during WW2 era Germany but have the smallest details about the going ons around him like "his neighbors 'moving away' so they use their driveway to ride around in" which would make it more dark even just a hint of it.

    That make sense?
     

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