Put ‘Em in the Right Mood: Using Description

By D.L. Koontz, @DLKoontz


Description involves the creation of mental images that allow readers to fully experience our stories. Appropriate description sets the tone, enabling the fullest reader impact.

Critical Point: Appropriate description does that.

Inappropriate description, however, does something completely different.

Appropriate description is as important to books, as the right music is to movies.

Let’s Look at Music First:

No one could argue the power music adds to the moment when Sylvester Stallone charges up those steps in the famous movie Rocky: http://bit.ly/2fS6DCS

Or, how about the magic of the running scene in Chariots of Fire? http://bit.ly/1t2zNfL

The best example of good – nay, perfect! – music is featured in the movie Jaws: http://bit.ly/1EuDMgO

Now, let’s look at that same opening scene with the WRONG (and different mood-setting) music: http://bit.ly/1PpAvQz

Wow! What an incredible difference, eh? It’s almost comical how different!

As you’ve seen, music can make our hearts swell, pulses race, eyes cloud with tears. In short, it creates a mood and sets the tone for what’s to come. (If you clicked on any of links above, you’ll know what I mean.)

As writers, our solution to adding an awesome mood-setting feeling to our books is, among other critical aspects, to provide appropriate description, because how you describe events, characters and places affects your readers’ perceptions.

Key Points About Description:

  1. We determine the way readers view a setting or a character, simply by the way we choose to describe it.
  2. Description replaces the missing soundtrack. Using appropriate description techniques, we can guide readers into experiencing a scene as suspenseful, happy, gloomy or any other desired mood.
  3. There IS a place for description in our books, but it has to be very specific to help set the tone, and it has to be the right amount; too much description, and readers will skip over it.


“She had light brown hair.”

It’s accurate, but it tells us little about her and even less about the person observing her.

The Fix:

  • Her hair glimmered like summer-brown wheat washed in the glorious sun.
  • His hair reminded me of the dull-brown color of a winter-killed weed.

Notice the difference in your reaction to the character? In the first, you got favorable cues toward the character. Not so, with the second. (Note, too, on the second example how description can enhance POV.)

In my novel, Crossing Into the Mystic, protagonist Grace moves into an estate she inherited from her step-father. There, she encounters a ghost and finds him so beguiling she begins to suspect he is a demon in disguise.

Therefore, the mood must be creepy. Take a second and imagine the spooky music you’d hear were this a movie.

How can we best relay that mood via description, as Grace rounds a curve in the road and sees the estate for the first time?

How about this:

The house loomed like a dark, gray mass, crouched into the curve of a hill, a hulking presence set amidst weeds and wildness. Made of stone, it looked strong, heavy, almost vile, as though the walls were there merely to encase the darkness within.

Can you hear the sinister music in your mind?

What if we were writing a light-hearted romp and wanted to put readers into a relaxed, jovial mood? We might say:

Grace eyed the massive stone house and wondered how in the world she’d ever manage to heat and clean the monstrosity. And those hills! Sure, she could stand to lose a few pounds, but who wanted to walk up and down those steep inclines to pull all those weeds? No wonder pioneer women were so thin.

Or, if we were writing a romance:

Grace’s heart swelled at the majesty of the house: its size more than ample for a large family, its large porch inviting outdoor meals; its setting perfect for snowfalls when children matched a toboggan with steep slopes. Her eyes misted. She was home, and this is where she and Clay would build a life together.  

Take note: That’s all the same house and same gal, just different music.

Are your descriptions setting the right mood (songs) in your stories? Do you ever “see” your book as a movie, and imagine the music that might accompany it?


An award-winning writer, former journalist and corporate escapee, Debra (writing as D. L. Koontz) is the author of Crossing into the Mystic, Edging through the Darkness, and Escaping from the Abyss. Her fourth novel What the Moon Saw comes out in March 2018. She has been published in seven languages. Growing up, she learned the power of stories on the front porch of her Appalachian, Pennsylvanian farmhouse. She now lives with her husband in rural Georgia on a cattle ranch, where she divides her time between writing, teaching, church activities, and working any muscles that don’t hurt.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “Put ‘Em in the Right Mood: Using Description

  1. What an excellent post! The comparison of appropriate description to music and their effect of mood is genius. I won’t forget this while I’m writing…