I realized I actually wanted to expand on my post about atmosphere so...here goes. Part two!
So, I showed you some examples of building atmosphere in my first post, but let's break that down a bit further. I'm going to show you the same kind of setting with different atmospheres. Given the time of year, let's go with "School" as a springboard, shall we?
For every click of my heel against the cracked linoleum, I could feel what was left of my summer spirit slipping away. The buzzing of the soul-sucking fluorescents set a low level headache beating away behind my eyeballs. It was the same old hallway, in spite of my upgrade to Sophomore, and it would be the same old, dirty, hallway until the school burned down or I managed to graduate in three years.
I could feel flame itching at my fingertips just at the thought.
The pounding, torrential drumbeat on the classroom roof should have made me drowsy, but it was hard to fall asleep in Mr. Brooke's class. Every gesture, every excited scramble of chalk to board was full of frenetic energy. His vibrant blue shirt struck out from the green blackboard, chalk smeared on the rolled up cuffs. If anything, the rain added to the urgency of the lesson. Driving it forward with it's steady patter. I'd been worried at first that taking Advanced Maths would be a mistake, but Mr. Brooke's always made me feel on the cusp of discovery. He made me feel smart.
It was with some small embarrassment that I plucked my teacup from the air where I'd left it. I'd not considered the levitation would last quite so long. In spite of this error, Professor Rawley seemed suitably impressed with my progress. I had not, at least, lost my touch over the summer break. I had been quite worried that I might. It was one thing, after all, to practice my skills in the safe harbor that was Last Star Academy and entirely another to practice where mortals might see me. Really, I would have to attend summer camp next year. It was far too long to go between practice.
I captured a bit of sunbeam to read by later (far better than a candle for under the covers) and finished packing up my things just as the bell tolled for tea.
Okay. So, obviously there are more differences between these pieces than simply atmosphere. It's pretty clear that they're genres and voice are different as well. I tried to stay within the same YA range, however, to make it easier to show you the differences.
Our first one uses phrases like, cracked, soul-sucking, dirty, etc. Which tells you right off that the character is moody, dislikes school and also sets up this very clear picture of a dingy, older school building that hasn't quite been cared for properly. In a brief set up, you know what this place looks like, what it feels like. You know what it sounds like. I find that adding in one or two senses in the initial set up really helps sell your atmosphere.
I used sound in the second one as well, but in a different fashion. This one is more upbeat, with bright color and words like vibrant and frenetic, highlighting the character's feelings. While there aren't many details about the room itself, you at least get the feeling of the room. The character feels happy, safe.
The last example is pretty obviously some kind of magic school. It's also a bit more upbeat, and again, while there is little description of the room itself, it's not entirely required to set the mood. This comes off as a more lighthearted character, and a brighter outlook and mood overall.
The other thing you should notice is sentence length. Pacing. The speed of your story is going to change the mood too. Overall, when it comes to the mood, the atmosphere of your story, this is really where all of your different skills come together. You have to understand how each story element works in order to properly set the mood. Word choice, tone, pacing, voice, character...it all feeds back into the atmosphere. Every word you write will feed back into atmosphere.
But getting it right? Definitely worth it.