Setting Mood Through Description

Every writer has his or her particular strength. Fantasy writer A. Merritt’s was his descriptive powers, which he employed to great effect in each and every one of his amazing stories. In The Face in the Abyss (1931), he describes an evil garden. Notice how a careful choice of words sets the mood.

At his left was a garden! A garden of evil!

There, a narrow stream ran over the floor of the cavern in curves and intricate loops. It was crimson, like a stream of sluggishly running blood. Upon its banks were great red lilies, tainted and splotched with venomous greens; orchid blooms of sullen purple veined with unclean scarlets; debauched roses; obscene thickets of what seemed to be shoots of young bamboo stained with verdigris; crouching trees from whose branches hung heart-shaped fruits of leprous white; patches of fleshy leafed plants from whose mauve centers protruded thick yellowish spikes shaped like hooded adders down whose sides slowly dripped glistening drops of some dreadful nectar.

Having established a visual, he now attacks the reader’s olfactory sense.

A little breeze eddied about him. It brought the mingled scents of that strange garden, and these were the very essence of it, distillation of its wickedness. They rocked him with blasphemous imaginings, steeped him with evil longings. The breeze lingered for a breath, seemed to laugh, then fled back to the garden and left him trembling.

He feared that garden! Yes, the fear of it was as strong as the fear of the black throne. Why did he fear it so? Evil, unknown and undreamed evil, was in it. It was living evil–ah, that was it! Vital evil! A flood of evil life pulsed and ran through every bloom, every plant and tree… evil vitality… they drew it from that stream of blood… but, ah, how strong one who fed upon their life might grow….

Writer’s challenge: Take a ho-hum description in your story and inspirit it with a mood. Describe a room in a plush hotel from the point of view of a spoiled socialite, then from the point of view of a poor orphan. Same room, two vastly different experiences!

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