Atmosphere (or mood) refers to the feeling the reader gets about the story based on the details the author uses.  Atmosphere is created by the description of backgrounds and settings, and sometimes by description of the characters and events. 


The atmosphere is the feeling the author wants the reader to pick up subconsciously - descriptions of cloudy skies, rain, and bitter winds make the reader feel sad and depressed, making a story seem dark and dreary; descriptions of bright green fields of grass, warm summer breezes, and sunny skies make the reader feel happy and relaxed, making a story seem bright and cheerful. 


Atmosphere is created mainly in two ways: through word choice and through sentence structure.


Word Choice:

How an author describes setting affects how the reader feels as they read the story.  For example, if you're writing about a large house, how you describe it changes the reader's feelings and expectations about what is going to happen:


Here's a sample of a story that starts with an ominous and scary atmosphere.  See if you can spot some of the words that create the dark atmosphere. 


Try to come up with a list of words that have happy, positive connotations to them.  Then try coming up with a list of words that have sad or depressing connotations.


Sentence Structure:

As an example, if you are trying to make a scene seem to move quickly to the reader, stick to using very few subjects and lots of verbs; longer sentences with less punctuation will add to the sense of quickness. 

Notice: Verbs that end in "-ing" make the reader feel like the action is happening at that moment; past-tense verbs slow the action down because it's already happened.


Also, there is very little detail to the setting- the descriptions are of the actions, not of the objects. 


Try writing a very brief action scene - no more than a few sentences.  Keep the action moving!



Similarly, you can make a scene seem slower either by using lots of shorter sentences with plenty of end punctuation, or by going into in-depth descriptions. 

Try writing a very brief scene with a happy and positive atmosphere using both word choice and sentence structure.


REMEMBER: Atmosphere is very different than the tone of a piece.