Why do the best plays make us feel so much? Because the playwrights use the tool of atmosphere to pull us into the world of their writing. Atmosphere is basically how the world and the emotions of the story interact. Creating the right atmosphere is key to telling an unforgettable tale for your audience. And crafting a strong atmosphere starts with visualization: the work you do to establish a clear picture of the story world in your own mind. Here are easy and fun ways to recapture the right mood of your story world every time:

The Right Mood Through Music

One key component of atmosphere is mood, which is the emotional feel of the story world. This mood can be light or dark, positive or negative, warm or cold. It’s an abstract concept to define, but something that helps is creating a personal playlist for your script. This playlist includes songs that fit with the overall emotional mood of your story. For example, if you’re writing a comedy, pop songs with a bouncy beat might fit perfectly. If you’re writing a very serious drama, slow indie songs might be your best fit. While you can certainly listen to this playlist as you write, try listening to it as you drive, or get ready, or clean. This way, the mood of the story permeates even the normal, everyday aspects of your life. Taking time to clearly identify and spend time with the mood of the play makes it significantly easier to access this mood while you sit down to write. It also helps to ensure that the atmosphere of the story feels cohesive all the way through. Music is a method of grounding yourself in the emotional space of your story.

You Are Here

While writing the script, playwrights develop a sense of what the play will look like onstage in terms of set and lighting. The next step is to visualize the world of the story more completely by identifying where the play takes place geographically. Is it somewhere close to you, or is it somewhere you’ve never seen before? If the play takes place near where you live, or in an environment similar to yours, research trips can be a fun way to immerse yourself in the world of your story. This can be as simple as driving through suburbs near you if your play takes place in the suburbs, or it can be as elaborate as taking a road trip. You can also use online resources such as Google Earth or even YouTube, as you might be able to find online videos of people walking or driving through your play’s setting.

 Just as with any place that exists in real life, the world of your play has an extensive history. Its inhabitants observe the world in a certain way. If your play takes place in a specific town, see if you can find online versions of that town’s newspaper. Reading some opinion articles from local papers gives you a stronger sense of what matters to the town’s inhabitants, and it can also provide inspiration for future stories.

Another strategy is to find books of photographs or history about the location you are trying to capture. If the location of your play is somewhere nearby, your public library might have books of local history. These books are an excellent way to establish a stronger sense of your story world. Doing research in this way also grounds the story in a sense of reality.

Ultimately, researching doesn’t lock you in a box, but works to extend your horizons by giving you more knowledge and background about the world you are trying to create.

Create a Collage You Can Look at Regularly

Once you have grounded yourself in the physical place and atmosphere of your story, the final step is to add your own personal spin. You can do this through synthesizing other art forms with the world you’re creating. What does this look like? It means tapping into other aspects of your creativity. One method of visualizing is to cut out pictures from magazines that remind you of your story world and craft them into a collage. It is also fun to get old books from a yard sale and flip them open to random pages, seeing which pieces of prose resonate with you, and highlighting them. Many writers explore other pieces of literature and find a singular quote that defines the world or the message they are trying to communicate in their play. Poetry provides especially impactful quotes for this! These creative exercises work because they give you something concrete (a collage or a quote) that reminds you of your story world, grounding you in the world’s atmosphere and emotion.

Mastering atmosphere starts not on the page, but with preparation. Training your imagination to visualize is the key to creating a story world that pulls the audience in. 

Dylan Malloy is a playwright and director whose first play, The Rocket Man, was adapted from a short story by Ray Bradbury and premiered in March, 2021. She attends Emory University as a playwriting major, with a double major in business on the arts administration track. You can find her on Instagram @dylan_writes.

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Lighting Design: The Magic Backstage

    Lighting Design: The Magic Backstage

    Meet Thespian Alum Alex Vasquez Dheming

    Dec 07, 2021

    Wigs vs. Natural Hair for the Show

    Wigs vs. Natural Hair for the Show

    Destinee Steele's Tips for Making the Right Choice

    Dec 08, 2021

    [title of show]

    [title of show]

    Hunter Bell shares tips for making the journey forward easier!

    Dec 10, 2021