The best way I know for setting the mood with nature in my writing is to experience nature myself. That’s why I’ve visited the location of my novel, so I could get first-hand observations of the natural world in which my characters live.
Being out in nature often changes my mood, usually for the better. But to write about it, at some point, I have to stand back and analyze the experience. Here are two ways to pick up on how nature affects moods.
What’s my first impression?
Often, a natural setting changes my mood before I realize how it did this. If I walk outside my house at night and instantly become uneasy, I may have to stop and think what exactly has produced the anxiety. Is something out of place and it makes me uncomfortable? Is there an unusual stimulation — sound, smell — that disconcerts me? Once I pinpoint the cause, which is usually nothing serious, I appreciate my surroundings.
What’s my last impression?
Sometimes, an outdoor experience is so all-consuming at the moment it occurs that I have to leave it before I can reflect on it. For me, that usually means I am enjoying myself. I love sledding, but I would ruin the fun if I put on my writer’s hat and tried to take mental notes about it while I was sledding. At home, at my desk, is the time for analysis.
Once I have a storehouse of natural experiences to pull from, I can apply those experiences to my characters to reveal qualities, quirks, or weaknesses about them.
One fun way for setting the mood with nature is to have the same character affected in opposite ways by the same aspect of nature. In my novel, my main character loves early morning runs, but after staying up most of one night, he finds the calls of the early birds irritating during the following morning. Or you can have nature set opposite moods in two different characters. A night hike through the mountains terrifies city person while her rural friend finds it invigorating.
For a writing exercise, use the picture above. Create two characters who experience the mist on the lake in two different ways.
How do you use nature to set the mood in your writing?