Something you might not know about me is that I absolutely love to paint. It’s my way to destress (or at least it was before I adopted a dog who likes to lick wet canvases and palettes). I’ve been drawing, painting and creating art for as long as I can remember and I think that’s why I’m so drawn to atmospheric stories. These stories have an added artistic element that allows my very-visual self to really sink into the stories and experience them alongside the character. Over the hundreds of manuscripts I’ve read, I’ve noticed that the authors who create an incredibly vivid atmosphere for their story are the ones who utilize every element of their writing to maintain that picture.
Atmosphere refers to the way the story pulls you into the world and paints a picture so vivid that it takes you a minute to remember where you are when you put the book down. It draws from every single element of craft and when all of these elements are working together, it creates an incredibly powerful form of imagery that will strengthen every one of those nontangible elements that push a book from great to abso-freaking-lutely amazing!
My favorite tip for creating a story with incredible atmosphere is to use a vision board. This could be on Pinterest, or you can print out the pictures you find and create a collage. If you’re writing in first person, put yourself into the mind of the character by making your desk look like you’re at their desk instead. If you’re not a visual person, make a playlist that puts you in the world you’re creating. Writing about warriors? Workout/box/get a wooden sword and hit things before you sit down to write. Whatever it is you need to do to get into the mindset you need to create the world you’re envisioning. And, for the love of God, don’t think about creating atmosphere while writing your first draft. Just get into the right mindset and you’ll naturally create at least a whisper of it on your own.
While editing, look at every element for consistency. Are you using words that would have been used in the era/world you’re writing in? What is the feel of the word you’re using? Would sad, mournful, solemn, or distraught fit better in the atmosphere you’re creating. It’s kind of like matching clothes; some words just go together.
Let’s say you’re writing a historical mystery with elements of horror (SEND IT TO ME!). Chances are, you’re not going have a character think “Whatever” and roll her eyes. Atmospheric elements you could use might be fog, rain, dark corridors (notice the word choice. Not hallways, corridors), big dresses in muted tones, castles on cliffs overlooking the sea, desperate or deranged characters, top hats, and a mysterious stranger who is hiding a secret. Is he dangerous or should we trust him?
Is the city dirty or pristine? Is there smog everywhere or is the city “green.” What fits within the story you’re telling and the atmosphere you’re creating? You can have both atmospheres to your story. Look at how much of a contrast Suzanne Collins has between the districts and the Capital in Hunger Games. This contrast might be a huge thematic strong point in your story. The main goal is to know what atmosphere you’re working toward and to edit yourself accordingly.
As I hope I’ve explained, you don’t need pages of description to show the atmosphere of your story. (Sorry Tolkien) Pick and choose your adjectives and adverbs wisely and you’ll have a story that readers want to sink into time and time again.
My Dad is one of my favorite people on the planet. He's the one who introduced me to science fiction through Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Stargate. He knows when to let me blabber on about an edit that is giving me trouble and when to throw an idea out there. He listens and remembers a fair amount of the publishing and writing terms I throw at him....
So WHY does he continually tell people I'm an editor???
As an industry, we don't try to be secretive. We're a passionate group of people and most of us will gladly blabber on for hours about the wonderful people and stories we get to work with, but for some reason that doesn't always make sense to the outside world. Even inside the publishing realm, I'm sometimes asked what a "day in the life of an agent" looks like, so here's what the oh-so-glamorous life of a junior agent looks like ....
I typically start my days by going through emails. I read over industry news, respond to any quick emails and add any larger tasks to my to-do list for the day. I prioritize my to-do list based on how long it will take me to do a project. Generally, I knock out the smaller tasks first and build up momentum to tackle the big projects on my list. When I have tasks that will take the same amount of time I will prioritize them like this...
Pretty simple, right? Once I've got my inbox to a manageable level, I'll move on to my actual to-do list…Fair warning, my to-do lists are probably more complex than they need to be, but it works.
In order to keep everything running smoothly and in order to protect myself from my workaholic nature, I have specific days where I have to work on specific things and days when I don’t allow myself to work on others. For example: I have to work in my query box on Wednesday evenings. I am not allowed to read submissions on Fridays. (I specifically read for fun or read nonfiction books about the industry/writing on Fridays) And for those of you who are wondering, I typically read submissions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, time allowing.
When I’m making my lists for the week, I start with my authors’ schedules. If there is anything that is coming up for them, I make sure to include that in my lists. This might include pitches for editors, proof reading, editing, reading, and check-in/update emails. Once I have these written out, I will add in the tasks I continually work on such as networking, researching, reading submissions and going through queries. Finally, I look at my ongoing projects. These are the things that I plan and complete as I come up with them. I just recently completed a huge project of rebuilding my website and updating all of my social media accounts. Up next? A rather large project including compiling all of my notes about publishing houses, imprints and editor interests that I have scribbled on what seems like millions of papers around my desk.
One of my favorite parts of the job is the fact that no day is ever going to be the same as the last. There’s always something exciting brewing on all of my authors’ laptops and there is always more to learn and see and hear. My job is to fall in love with stories and help writers realize their dreams as published authors. Agenting is hard work. Some days I will work from 8am until midnight, but I never get bored and I’ve never once regretted my decision to pursue this career over any other. Maybe someday my Dad will learn to say that I’m an agent.