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Writing Tips: Using Comparisons to Affect Mood

#WRITINGTIPS: Carefully choose your comparisons to support the mood of your passage.

In this quote from "The Captive Series Bundle (Books 1-5)"  by Erica Stevens and Leslie Mitchell - the authors have sacrificed the atmosphere of a battle scene by using comparisons the reader usually associates with positive situations.

Running across the top of the battlement, Ashby moved swiftly through the soldiers trying to stop him. Ever whistling Ashby continued to toss them aside like discarded peanut shells. Realization settled over him as Jack finally understood what caused Ashby to become so ruthless. Melinda.

How to Write it Better

First, consider the mood you are trying to create. In this featured passage from "The Captive Series":
  • The situation is "war"
  • The setting is a "battlement"
  • The character is "ruthless"
  • The action is "tossing soldiers aside"
Based on the above information about this scene, it would be appropriate to go for a "chilling" mood. 

Before we can do that, however, there are a few issues to deal with:
  1. The character Ashby is known to be good natured and is always whistling. However, to imagine he could be whistling while slicing his way through a multitude of soldiers requires too much suspension of disbelief. It would be more impactful to have Ashby stop doing what he usually does, showing a change or depth of character that reveals to Jack Ashby's "ruthless" side.
  2. The word "toss" is frivolous. We "toss" salad. We "toss" balls. To get the true impact of this passage, we need to toss the verb "toss". 
  3. Why stop there? Let's change "running" to something more descriptive that shows the unstoppable forward motion of Ashby. What word would you use?
  4. Let's also change up "moved". These are common verbs that, with a little tweaking, can empower your writing.
  5. And what kind of realization could settle over Jack? Well, if you know the story, Jack's sister Melinda was torn from Ashby, so though Jack had no say in the matter, he didn't stop their father either. Do we describe the realization, and if we do, will it help the scene by giving Ashby a stronger reason to be ruthless? This may change the mood, possibly moving it from chilling to something else. We (as authors) have to decide if it is worth it.
  6. Lastly, I read this great article about emphasis. In it the author stated that an em dash was the strongest form of emphasis, even over a comma and possibly a period. I'm going to use one before "Melinda".

The Rewrite


Running across the top of the battlement, Ashby moved swiftly through the soldiers trying to stop him. Ever whistling Ashby continued to toss them aside like discarded peanut shells. Realization settled over him as Jack finally understood what caused Ashby to become so ruthless. Melinda.


Charging across the battlement, Ashby cut swiftly through the soldiers trying to stop him. No longer whistling, he struck down his enemies with a chilling single-mindedness. Cold realization spread over Jack as he finally understood what caused Ashby to become so ruthless--Melinda.
As you can see, by just making a few word choice changes, you can keep a scene on point in terms of the mood you want to create in your reader. In a perfect world, we (writers) would find the time to examine each of our scenes and modify them to be the best they could be. For some authors of quickly produced series, that means fewer books in more time. Each writer has to decide for themselves.

The Book Examined

"The Captive Series Bundle (Books 1-5)" by Erica Stevens, Leslie Mitchell

Book 1, Captured.
Captured, taken from her beloved family and woods, Aria’s biggest fear is not the imminent death facing her, but that she will be chosen as a blood slave for a member of the ruling vampire race. Aria’s world is turned upside down when a vampire named Braith steps forward to claim her. He delays her execution, but Aria knows it’s only a matter of time before he drains her, and destroys her. Aria is determined to hate the prince, but his strange kindness and surprising gentleness astonish her. Torn between her loyalties to the rebellion, and her growing love for her greatest enemy, Aria struggles to decide between everything she has ever known and a love she never dreamed of finding.

Writing Definitions

The tone of a piece of literature is the speaker's or narrator's attitude towards the subject, rather than what the reader feels, as in mood. The mood is the general feeling or atmosphere that a piece of writing creates within the reader.

Comparison Definition. A comparison is a rhetorical or literary device in which a writer compares or contrasts two people, places, things, or ideas. ... There are numerous devices in literature that compare two different things to show the similarity between them, such as simile, metaphor, and analogy.

Example: Some words that can describe the mood of a poem might be: romantic, realistic, optimistic, pessimistic, gloomy, mournful, sorrowful, etc. Some words that can describe the tone of a poem might be: serious, humorous, amused, angry, playful, cheerful, sad, gloomy, etc.

The Disclaimer

No one can ever know what a writer is going for when they write, and for me to say my rewrite is what the writer should have used is presumptuous. So, I won't say that. However, as a reader of this scene, I felt a darker mood would have served it better. 

As well, not every writer scans each scene to ensure it is perfect, including myself, and I'm sure there are scenes and passages within my own novels that could use tweaking.

Overall, the scene above is used to demonstrate how word changes can alter the mood of a passage, thereby affecting a reader's emotions.

Thanks for reading! 

Cheryl R Cowtan
Award-Winning Educator, Author, and Writing Coach

What’s Brewing?
Let’s Connect: @NspiredMe2Write


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