You’re into the world! How exciting can it get? Okay, you may be surrounded by the hookers downstairs blocking the sidewalk and the addicts, most of them you’re neighbors, who’ve been stealing your stuff when you’re out. You may be at work, irritated at your co-workers who keep interrupting your train of thought, or suffering in a crowded classroom or a tiny apartment, with your family, or on-call to your patients or trying to stall on a report you have to deliver to the Prime Minister, or worried about the gang moving into your little ghetto in your town or village or city, in whatever country you live. You’ve created characters with views and started your story and you’re into the fictional world in your head. More, the reader has stepped in.
So many elements go into creating a world. One of them is tone. It’s important when opening a scene to ground the reader in time and place, but this alone doesn’t make a story intriguing. It’s how you ground the reader, what details you offer and what language you use to proffer them up. Look at a couple of authors who create an atmosphere that seduces the reader.
“It’s freezing ─ an extraordinary 0’ Fahrenheit ─ and it’s snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is quank ─ big, almost weightless crystals falling in clumps and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.” (Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoag). Right away we experience cold and know there’s loss.
Or witness how thriller writer Alan Furst does it in the first paragraph of Dark Voyage. “In the port of Tangier, on the last day of April, 1941, the fall of the Mediterranean evening was, as always, subtle and slow. Broken cloud, the color of dark fire in the last of the sunset…” He’s an atmospheric writer who establishes a brooding tone, as he does writers such as Graham Greene, as does John Banville, as does
The opening paragraph brings the reader into the world you create through the tone you establish. The reader quickly knows what kind of a story he’s reading: elegiac, exultant, mysterious, brooding. Tone is established with character, detail of time and place, description and mostly importantly, the language you use. Tone and atmosphere alone will not keep a reader in the story, but it’s crucial to drawing the reader in.
Use tone to create a fictional world