What Importance Does Atmosphere Hold in Storytelling?

With day 12 of the 25 Days of Stadarooni upon us, we are pretty much at our halfway point for this month. I thank you for the immense support over the past several days, and I welcome any new readers that have stumbled across this blogs corner of the internet. Today we focus back on analysis and talk about one aspect of storytelling that can be pivotal in creating a legendary story.

The days are getting shorter, the winter is getting stronger, and frost blankets the air. How does this make you feel? Do you think of shivering, of darkness, or of freezing? Simple words that may invoke feelings provide enhancements to writing and give an image. If one cannot express atmosphere in conventional ways, then perhaps an image is what you need.

Clouds1

I apologize for the lame joke, but what is atmosphere? To many, it may just seem to be a synonym for mood in literary terms, and in essence, they do have a stark comparison as they are both in relation to emotions. The difference is that mood is the direct emotions from an artist or character to the audience, and atmosphere is the ’emotion’ that is given off from mood.

For instance, why not look at this literal picture of the atmosphere? This can be from the viewport of an aircraft, and maybe someone is in a state of bliss. They are going on a vacation to Fiji, and it represents freedom from the cold landscape of Nunavut. Warmth and ecstasy and other moods from this person, and they all relate to the vibrancy of this image and the setting I provided.

So, where does this leave us with atmosphere? The answer is that it can be of emotional joy, with light and tranquility being key in what is happening for this person. It does not have to stay restricted to this one scene in particular: it can be present throughout this film (which we will assume it is) and make it one that makes the audience feel positive and invigorated. Maybe the atmosphere will shift, but it should do so naturally. Maybe the positive atmosphere gets turned into a hopeful one, as this character spends time with the people of Fiji rather than the resorts. Either way, it should feel natural, and not change from A to B on a dime.

tempestforceendor-rotj

Look at Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. While a great film in its own right, the crucial Battle of Endor has issues in atmosphere and mood, which stems from the Ewoks. These creatures are meant to cater to a younger audience as they strongly resemble teddy-bears. They are tribal, and make noises that spell out ‘cute.’ In comparison to the rigid and all-powerful Empire, the Ewoks are innocent underdogs which serve a purpose of appeal (to younglings) and more light-hearted comedy.

The only problem is the discrepancy that pops up in both mood and atmosphere as we see these Ewoks both defeat Stormtroopers in ‘silly’ ways, but then see the Imperial forces slaughter them by the numbers. For the defining last battle of a trilogy (especially after coming off the darker The Empire Strikes Back) this imbalance causes the tense weight of the battle to be lost. The intent of the film is not for the viewers to be left in suspense when the Ewoks are in battle, but instead for us to laugh at their childish and primitive techniques that overcome the well-equipped forces of the Empire.

The mood shifts between lighthearted and in some cases unintentionally dark, which does not match earlier scenes in Jabba’s Palace, and definitely does not match the tense confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. This mismatch of atmosphere and mood is what really jumbles around the third act of the film, and clutters it with distracting shifts in emotion that ultimately take away from a film that plays its other pieces in a right way. It cannot choose its atmosphere between deep emotional confrontation and lighthearted warfare with teddy-bears, and this should not be a problem in the third entry of a seasoned film saga.

While shorter, that is due to the nature of these weekdays. I hope you found value in why atmosphere can create such a vivid story that remains solid throughout, and not waver into a mess of great ideas. Tomorrow will bring a very interesting topic on endings to the table, and I hope you tune in. If you have experienced Mass Effect 3’s soul-shattering ending, well… You may have a better idea of what to expect.

Farewell for now, and make sure you don’t lose your sled. 🙂

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