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Describing the Mood

Describing the Mood

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson explains how to describe the mood in a work of fiction.

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Describing Mood


 “Mood” is considered the feeling, or emotional tone, that spreads throughout a work of fiction (or sometimes just a part of one). This emotional tone or mood can eventually determine what readers expect to happen in the story. For example, when the mood becomes tense or tension rises, readers expect the tension to hit a breaking point in a climactic scene.


It might be easy to identify the “mood” of a scene, or entire work, but it can be difficult to point to specific support to provide a detailed description of the mood.

Start by looking at descriptions of the setting:

  • Weather
  • Landscapes
  • Time of day (mornings are usually associated with new beginnings, new knowledge, brightness, calm before the activity of the day; whereas night is usually associated with secrecy, deception, terror, darkness, and the unknown)
  • Time of year (Spring is usually associated with new life, winter is usually associated with old age, or a cold nature)
  • Buildings/architecture (the use of steeple-rooftops and gargoyle statues in the buildings in Gothic literature)
  • Rooms/hallways within buildings
  • Roads/parks/forests

Though descriptions of weather and setting usually help establish the mood of a scene or entire work of fiction, it is not always the case. Be careful that you don’t mistake a simple, informative description with establishing mood.


A lot of authors use changes in light, temperature, color, or setting to signal a change in mood. For example:

  • The sky darkening before a storm
  • The sun bursting through the clouds at the end of a storm
  • Increasing heat could indicate a rise in tension, anger, discomfort, sickness, etc.
  • Increasing cold could indicate loneliness, distance, fragility, lifelessness, etc.


Additionally, sensory language (sights, sounds, touches, tastes, scents) can be used to establish mood.


Once you’ve located the descriptions, it’s time to look at the author’s diction, or word choice. Because words can have many connotations and associations, it is important to look at the words the author uses to build the descriptions. Mood relies heavily on the associative properties of words, phrases, and descriptions to build the right images that create the right effect in the reader’s mind.



Let’s look at an example: Edgar Allen Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart”


Mood: Anxious/Suspenseful

How the mood is established:

  • Diction
    • The narrator talks in extremes (life, death, forever, etc.), and uses severe words to describe everything: always/never, love/hate, everything/nothing, open/closed; which emphasizes the narrator’s extreme behavior.
    • Mentions death, vultures, madness, power
  • Time of day
    • Most of the action occurs at night, in complete darkness. Because the narrator’s actions do not make sense, the reader is as much “in the dark” about what is happening as the old man in the story.
    • The author uses the darkness and isolation of the old man to create feelings of dread, anxiety, and tension in the reader.
  • Sounds
    • Tension mounts as the old man’s heartbeat grows louder and louder, until it overwhelms the narrator.
    • Tension mounts again as the police unknowingly sit a few feet from the old man’s dead body, and the narrator again hears the old man’s heartbeat, from beneath the floorboards.
  • Descriptions
    • Narrator describes himself as nervous, obsessively denies being “mad” or crazy
    • Narrator takes a great deal of time describing his process of creeping into the old man’s room to prove his sanity, and his thorough descriptions create paranoia and anxiety. 

Describing Mood