20 Surefire Ways You Can Evoke The Right Mood In Your Readers
By Leigh Holland
In the field of linguistics, scientists study the effects of words on those who read or hear them, as well as which words produce the most and least pleasing sounds, determining which words are therefore more likely to survive the passage of time.
When we see an image or object and associate the word describing it inside our minds, they become interchangeable. When we do it with sounds, this sound association is known as phonosemantics. This abstraction of sounds opens the floodgate for feeling or mood also associated with those abstractions, an event known as “ideasthesia”.
It may seem incredible that a sound or string of sounds can inspire feelings and moods in those who read or hear them. When I first heard this, I scoffed inwardly, “Yeah, right, as if my mind is that gullible.” Then I tested it. Here we go!
What popped into your head? Was it either Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Manson, or a person you know or knew named Marilyn? If so, that’s an example of how word association summons forth images, feelings, and ideas.
Let’s try another.
I immediately thought of Halloween, horror films, ghosts, and scary noises. Most of those scary sounds made a creak or squeal type of sound. Now I’m ready to read a Stephen King book. Did you notice what these words had in common? They all have a long ee sound in them. The long ee sound is subconsciously associated with a mood for horror and thrills.
Our minds store information and categorize things so we can make sense of the world as we encounter it day by day. Sleep is a lot like a defrag program for our minds. It makes sense that our mental method of categorizing would lead to word and sound associations.
How do we use these associations to our benefit in storytelling and writing?
One: Content is always more important than sound associations.
Two: Sound symbols can add something special to your writing when placed in an appropriate scene.
Three: Be subtle when using this technique.
- Mood: Violent, Intimidating. “B” sounds found in words such as: belt, beat, bash, bang, blow, bully, bounce, bitch, barbarian, barbarous, bat, boom, bone, bossy, brag, boast, bluster, brazen, bury, blatant, bad, box, brawl, jab, grab, blast, rob, clobber, bump, bruise, bust, brutal, bouncer, boxer, butting, brow-beat, beefy, bothersome, brawn, bellicose, squabble, bigot, bounder, bold, brash, bucolic, buffoon, slobber, bawl, bray, bellyache, blood.
- Mood: Terrifying, Scary, Cringing. “EE”, “C” and “T-R” sounds found in such words as: tossed, turned, trouble, terror, tormented, twitch, tremble, tremendous, tantrum, tempest, tornado, tirade, twisting, twirling, torrent, trumpet, tyrant, grief, eerie, creepy, weird, evil, demon, screech, squeal, squeak, beseech, plead, scream, shriek, keen, weep, banshee, gleam, creatures, features, feverish, fearsome, fear, hear, heed, deed, dreary, creak, eerie, cringing, cranny, crevice, cavern, chasm, cloister, confined, cover, cove, closed, cubicle, cupboard, closet, corner, crater, cavity, cleft, crack, recess, cradle, crib, cower, creep, catacomb.
- Mood: Humorous, Comedic, Slapstick, Cheerful. “J” , “DGE”, “CH” and “B” sounds found in words such as: jumble, bumble, stumble, big, broad, beam, barrel, bloated, belly, ball, bollocks, bust, bosom, boobs, breasts, jolly, tub, buttocks, booty, bum, base, bottom, backside, bluff, burly, bulging, buttery, beautiful, benign, benevolent, blessed, bountiful, blimp, blooming, bulbous, burgeoning, billowing, orb, bouncing, babbling, globe, knob, basket, baggy, bowl, bubble, flabby, shambles, slobber, gobble, blob, buffoon, fumble, blush, imbibe, booze, embarrass, jaunt, jamboree, chuckle, cherish, chirp, jester, joy, enjoy, cheerful, chaff, charm, chant, chortle, cheeky, chit-chat, exchange, jingle, rejoice, jovial, jest, joke, jive, jig, jazz, jumping, jabber, jeering, jag, jape, jog, junket, jitterbug, jug, jar, joint, touch, chin.
- Mood: Lofty, Aspiring. “A” and “H” sounds found in such words as: sage, ascend, aviator, audacious, azure, aloft, angelic, again, aspire, avian, alert, agile, aware, attentive, awake, lark, hope, heaven, human, high, holiness, holidays, holy, happy, host, harmony, ghost, heave, honesty, sigh, howl, heart, hearth, earth, wholeness, haughty, hilltop, hierarchy, head, hankering, honor, humility.
- Mood: Defeat, Despair, Death, Suffering. “D” and “H” sounds found in such words as: defeat, despair, depression, death, die, down, dumps, dodo, dead, done, dumb, dingy, drop, dim, droop, dank, dark, dreary, doleful, dire, dismal, dread, demotion, dismiss, degradation, dungeon, curmudgeon, smudge, stodgy, drudge, despondent, abandon, under, dig, Hell, heat, harass, hardship, hard, hit, helpless, horrible, horror, hate, hated, harm, hurtful, hurt.
- Mood: Cutting, Jarring, Stinging, Attack. “C”, “K”, and “CK” sounds found in words such as: cutting, cleave, culling, scissors, scythe, sickle, scold, critic, caustic, scalpel, schism, curtail, acid, cold, discourage, scar, flick, quick, whisk, look, hark, awaken, crack, prank, pike, spike, brisk.
- Mood: Fun. “F” sounds found in words such as: fun, frivolous, frivolity, free, fancy, footloose, flamboyant, flagrant, effervescence, flair, famous, flighty, flutter, fairies, frisky, flirt, flaunt, flitting, frilly fluff, floating, flying, feathers, foam, flounce, fidget, drift, fops, frolic, flippant, flock, fan, flash, flimsy, finery, flee, frocks, taffeta, flam, ruffles, flossy, flapper, foolish, flutter, fake, estive, fantasy, fast, butterfly, affable, carefree, fabulous, flourish, fling.
- Mood: Inertia and/or Yuck. “G” sounds found in words such as: glue, glucose, glutton, grease, congeal, grimy, greasy, quagmire, gurgle, slog, bog, gummy, grunge, grit, grisly, gooey, soggy, clogged, grab.
- Mood: Leisurely. “L” sounds found in words such as: lazy, laid-back, linger, limpid, lagoon, light, placid, languid, lie, lethargic, dally, listless, loafer, pleasure, lump, slump, sleep, leisure, lull, sloth, slug, sliding, slipping, slob, sleek, lounging, lax, loose, flaccid.
- Mood: Cozy. “M” sounds found in words such as: mother, home, meal, warm, comfort, murmur, mumble, mutter, mercy, mirth, mild, humble, mammal, maternal, molly-coddle, mollify, moon, plump, money, make, made, missed, mellow, amiable, mulled, meek, mare, madonna, womb, mommy, ambience.
- Mood: Rejection, Denial. “N” sounds found in words such as: nope, no, nothing, never, nowhere, nobody, deny, sin, decline, ban, non, negative, knave, naughty, none, nick, nay, denigrate, nasty, snide, sneer, nag, narrow, uncouth, unholy, unloved, unwanted.
- Mood: Heroes, Royals, Power. “O” sounds represent the ultimate mother or queen while “P” sounds represent the father or king, found in such words as: womb, world, mother, noble, rolling, royal, over, round, globe, orb, goddess, whole, glory, gown, robe, dome, source, home, come, hole, orifice, mound, knob, pompous, rotund, moon, cosmos, total, void, ocean, hero, paternity, pregnant, priority, emperor, pompous, pride, upright, pole, pinnacle, pillar, parental, parent, support, pedestal, post, puffed-up, proper, pipsqueak, peevish, preen, plumage, power, parade, palace, president, prefect, prince, pontiff, principle, patriarch, politics, pomp, peacock, prance, penetrate, push, prong, pierce.
- Mood: Foreboding. “Oo” and “Ow” sounds found in words such as: spook, gloom, doom, room, tomb, loom, hoot, mood, moon, owl, soul, howl, ooze, wound, growl, soothsayer.
- Mood: Judgement. “P” sounds found in words such as: police, penalty, apprehend, probate, probe, punish, punishment, protocol, deploy, pretend, appeal, parish, population, parole, plea, process, prison, position, parochial.
- Mood: Quizzical. “Q” sounds found in such words as: quiver, quest, quirk, question, quiz, querulous, quarrelsome, quips, quandary, qualm.
- Mood: Speedy, Fast, Fight Scenes. “R” sounds found in words such as: running, rugged, rock, race, rapid, hurry, rush, run, scurry, rip, flurry, car, cart, raging, rearing, torrent, rage, racing, whirr, burst, crack, fracture, rupture, break, grind, rub, crash, scrape, crunch, cripple.
- Mood: Secretive. “S” sounds found in words such as: silent, secret, slip, sneak, confession, mystery, suspicious, discreet, whisper, hiss, lisp, specter, spook, sniper, snare, snitch, snatch, snake, snoop.
- Mood: Contempt. “SL” sounds found in words such as: slime, slipshod, slippery, slop, slug, slush, slick, slither, sluice, lander, sleazy, slur, slacker, slapdash, sly, slay, slide, slope, slum, swill, slinking, scum.
- Mood: Authoritarian. “Str” sounds found in words such as: constrained, instruct, string, strong, strict, instructions, strain, stress, strive, strangle, strike, stronghold, strafe, struggle, strap, stride, astride, strop, straddle.
- Mood: Confusion. “Z” sounds found in words such as: maze, haze, dizzy, dazzled, fuzzy, buzz, fizzle, woozy, puzzled, dozing, snoozing, crazy, bamboozled.
What are some of the ways we can use these mood evocations in prose?
- Onomatopoeia: The word is the sound. You’ll recognize this technique from comic books. Smash! Boom! Crash! Wham! Boing! Zap!
- Alliteration: When two words start with the same sound. Use sparingly and only to emphasize something you want readers to remember later. Can also be effective for memorable titles, such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “War of the Worlds”, “Foxfire Five”.
- Assonance: Repeating a vowel sound in the middle of words strung close together. “Fear squeezed Deena’s chest as the moon cooed to her wolf within.”
- Consonance: Repeating the same consonant in the middle of words strung closely together. “The lucky attacker struck Deena quickly.”
- The Best For Last: End the sentence with the strongest word. “As the full moon enveloped Deena, pain invaded her skull.”