I went to Sam's Club today, primarily to get one of their $1.49 four-berry frozen yogurt sundaes. But before I could even get halfway through the door, I was met with a large, light-up spider and a tree that moved. "Halloween decorations," I scoffed. I was raised to abhor Halloween to the point that I wasn't allowed to carve a Jack-o-Lantern until I was a teenager. We decorate for fall--we might put a scarecrow in the front flower bed, and we still have a bunch of crafts from Oriental Trading that my sister and I did as kids to put around the house--but we never decorate for Halloween.
The antithesis of my family lives in a cul-de-sac just down the road from us. They decorate for Halloween the way everyone wants to decorate for Christmas. They set up a cemetery in their front yard, complete with ghosts, goblins, spiders, and an incredibly creepy baby. Fortunately, they haven't set it up this year. Yet.
All this creepy stuff got me thinking about the American Literature course I just took. We studied the Romantic Period, and no, it had nothing to do with romance. It had more to do with a general feeling of creepiness than anything else. One of the more horrifying stories we read was "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe. In it, a man murders his friend by leading him down into his family's crypt, getting him drunk on the way there, then tying him down and literally building a wall around him.
I know. I'm glad my high school literature course stuck to "The Pit and the Pendulum."
The Romantics were experts at building a disturbing atmosphere in their stories. And to me, one of the most important things in a book--besides the plot and the characters--is the "feel" of the book. Fear Has a Name by Creston Mapes is one of my favorite books. You can feel the action, the fast pace, the heart-racing, adrenaline-pumping, edge-of-your-seat emotions that you might at a theme park. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series is gentler: you can almost feel the coziness as you turn the yellowed pages. You feel Laura's security as a child, her free spirit as she grows older, and her maturity as she enters her teen years. Yet there's a simplicity and a kindness about everything that makes the series so endearing.
Writing style plays a lot into theme. So does setting--it's hard to write something dreary when your protagonist is in a sunny field of flowers. I've found in my own limited experience that descriptions are some of the best conveyors of theme. The following is one of my favorite thematic scenes from Where the Clouds Catch Fire:
"Half an hour later, Alynn was sitting down to dinner with Lukas. The sun had set, and the starlight was cloaked with clouds. All of the light came from the fireplace. It flickered on whatever it touched—shadowy faces, gloomy corners, and the lonely far reaches of the room."
If you want to, you can add symbolism to your writing to add a bit more theme. I like to use the language of flowers, although I don't do it much in Where the Clouds Catch Fire, primarily because it's late in the year and not too many flowers are blooming. But it's fun to throw in a linden flower to symbolize everlasting love, or a foxglove for insincerity.
Do you prefer books that are happy, sad, romantic, or action-packed? Would you rather read a cozy mystery or a thriller? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.