Guide to Literary Terms Questions and Answers

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How to describe mood?

Mood refers to a particular emotional response in a reader that a writer creates by making certain choices in diction and setting.

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Tone and mood are commonly confused, so let's take just a moment to first differentiate between the two terms. While tone focuses on the writer (his attitude toward the subject), mood focuses on the reader's response and emotions which are generated through specific literary methods.

A writer creates a certain mood in a piece of literature by using a particular diction, by writing about certain themes, and by placing the action in a particular setting. As we process these elements of a piece of literature, we have a reaction to the work. This emotional reaction is the mood of a story.

Consider the opening of Poe's "The Raven":

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
In these opening lines, Poe creates an eerie and ominous mood. The setting is a December evening around midnight. He also uses diction like dreary, weak, bleak, dying, and ghost to generate a feeling of ominous dread.
Compare that to the opening lines of Wordsworth's poem "Daffodils":

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Wordsworth creates a joyful mood by making different artistic choices. The setting is beside a lake which bursts with daffodils along its shores. He chooses diction like fluttering, dancing, twinkle, and sprightly to generate a light poem of hope.

Together, the artistic choices a writer makes help a writer create a particular mood—or emotional response—in readers that will contribute to a theme or message in a work of literature.

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