Category: Analyzing atmosphere

Atmosphere Part 3: Atmosphere Is Also Posters

So atmosphere is weather, and even background sounds.  But what do you do for atmosphere if you’re indoors?  Well, first, you can make the scene atmospheric by adding fog.  No reason not to add fog to any setting, indoors or out.

Or you can make it dark, so that most of the details are obscured and hard to see.  There’s some atmosphere for you!  (I checked out Alien, which was the #2 atmospheric movie on my list, and it was both dark and foggy.)

But what do you do if your scene has to be both indoors and brightly lit?

Hang up some posters.

Like the lip-syncing scene in Pretty in Pink.  Or, magnificently, the museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Okay, it doesn’t have to be posters.  But put something on the walls–unless the indoors has to be deliberately blank, as in Let the Right One In, in order to contrast with the (highly atmospheric) world outside.  Or make the walls themselves interesting, as in The Shining.



Atmosphere Part 2: Okay, Also Atmosphere is Literally Just Background Noise Too

So the other day I joked about how atmosphere is literally just the weather (mostly fog).  But there’s more to it than that.

There’s also background noise.*

Go back to your list of atmospheric movies and/or novels, and pull up a scene/page from one of the items on the list.  The first movie on my list was “Seven,” and the first scene that I was able to pull up was the “What’s in the box?” scene.

The scene starts out with Morgan Freeman in front of an old-gold-colored sky.  The sun is about to set, I think, and the light is golden.

Background noise:  several types of birds chirping, wind blowing.  Nobody speaks, we just hear the sounds of Morgan Freeman cutting open that cardboard box with a pocket knife.  We switch over to Brad Pitt, and suddenly there’s the sound of a helicopter in the background.  As Morgan Freeman opens the box, the wind rises.  We get a cut of a helicopter coming in, a voice over the radio.  Then back to Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey, with a big background of desert hills and powerlines behind them.  Then we start getting background music.

I recommend going to whatever movie/novel you think is most strikingly atmospheric, and looking for a) the weather, and b) background noises, and especially c) the weather making background noises.


*Also known as ambient noise, a synonym for atmospheric.

Atmosphere Part 1: Atmosphere Is Literally Just Fog

A thought experiment for you:

Do a Google search for “atmospheric movies.”

Check out how many of the movies had posters with some sort of fog, weather, smoke, or translucence in them.  Of the ones that don’t, if you’ve seen the movie, ask yourself, “Is some element of the weather a factor in the story?”

Now ask yourself if you liked most of those movies.  You can, of course, do the same thing for novels.

Your book doesn’t have to start with a dark and stormy night, but it doesn’t actually hurt.

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