I remember when I first met Eric Luper in 2005 at a writing conference at Vassar. He was stand-out, unique, insightful (and nice) and had the distinct air of talent and determination. I had no doubt he would be one of the ones who would make it!
Now, with three young adult novels under his belt (Big Slick 2007 -- nominated for Best Books for Young Adults, Bug Boy 2009, and Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto 2010) and a middle grade novel on its way (Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets 2011), I'm thrilled to have this prolific best-selling novelist here to share some tips on using details in your scene to convey emotion.
Mood and It's Effect on Setting by Eric Luper
Everyone has seen a movie where, after some disappointment or defeat, the very sad protagonist walks alone through the rain. Usually this scene is accompanied by some sort of sad piano music and probably it all happens at night. As viewers, we know the guy is sad. As writers, we roll our eyes. Heavy-handed, yes, but it does get the point across.
So how does a writer convey mood using setting without being over the top or cliche? What we as observers notice is directly dependent upon our emotional state. As writers we can convey this very subtly.
Take a look out your window and pick a spot. I don't care if it's your backyard, a street corner or a park bench. Imagine your main character sitting there and pick an emotional state for him or her to be in. Elation, love, sadness, anger, whatever. Describe the scene with this emotional standpoint in mind (either from a 1st or 3rd person perspective) and try to bring in surrounding physical details that help convey it. You can use weather and time of day, but don't just rely on those things. Does your character notice the slush kicking up on the side of a passing bus? A woman pushing a baby carriage? Litter on the ground? Puffy clouds? Thin wispy ones that reflect the pink sunset?
Now, try doing the exact same thing using a different emotion. Notice what different details you use and the language you use to describe it.
About Eric Luper:
Eric Luper is the author of several young adult novels including Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto, Bug Boy and Big Slick. His forthcoming novel, his humorous middle-grade debut, is called Jeremy Bender vs the Cupcake Cadets and is due to hit shelves in Fall 2011.