Grade: Middle
Subject: Language

#3480. Demystifying Mood in Creative Writing

Language, level: Middle
Posted Tue May 31 13:00:59 PDT 2005 by Dennis Tierney (
Dansville Central Schools, Dansville NY 14437 USA
Materials Required: Highlighter, Dictionary, Paper, Pencils
Activity Time: Two Parts, 1 hour each part.
Concepts Taught: Creative witing to evke mood and atmosphere

"Make it not like anything else. Rather, make it become the thing that all else is like."
Jay Cocks

Topic: "Demystifying Mood in Creative Writing."

Key Words: Mood, atmosphere and creative writing.

Objective: Students will learn the role of mood in creative writing by:


Defining the words "mood," "emotions," "creative" and "quality."

Reviewing and discussing Megan O' Shea quote on atmosphere.

Creating a definition of "mood in creative writing" that is aligned with the defintion provided.

Using a starter descriptor list to expand their understanding of mood and emotions.

Reading two variations of the same reading sample and choosing the "moody one."

Highlighting appropriate mood descriptors on their list as they reread the chosen sample.


Reading " The Lady or the Tiger," visualizing scenes from the story and relating these to mood and emotions.

Responding to extended learning questions about the story and receiving feedback in the form of a whole class discussion.

Surveying narrative criteria instructions.


Applying what they learn by writing a one-page essay. In their piece, the students will invite the readers to become participants in the story by using vivid, specific language to show events, characters and scenes that evoke mood and atmosphere.

Revisiting and reflecting on their corrected essay.

Evaluation will be based on assessing the essay against the narrative criteria.

"Think of your writing as a birthday present. The beginning is handing your gift to the person and looking for their delight. The main idea is the box's content. The details are the bows and wrapping paper. The concluding sentence is the ribbon that ties it all together." Ruth Culham



Find the words "mood", "emotion" and "quality" and "creative" in the dictionary. Copy down the definitions. Read the accompanying definition of mood as it relates to creative writing. How does mood and emotions help involve the reader in the story?

Review the starter descriptor list. Notice that it consists of words showing mood, feelings and emotions. Can you add some of your own? If so, list them under "Your choice."

Please read the two samples, starting with Sample #1. After finishing both, decide which of the two contains mood and atmosphere. Do you think the author's use of mood and atmosphere helped you become involved in the story? Please reread the sample you chose and this time, as you read, highlight on your descriptor list the emotions you feel.

Reflect on the quotation by Megan O'Shea. Does it help you see "mood in writing" more clearly? Read the other quotes as you come upon them. I hope you keep all these helpful hints in mind as you proceed through the lesson.

It is time to read "The Lady or the Tiger." As you begin the story, focus on the way the author uses the readers' feelings and emotions to get them involved in the story. Use context clues and a dictionary to decipher the meanings of any unfamiliar words. As the story unfolds, visualize each scene and reflect on the feelings you are experiencing. Jot them down. Try to guess the fate of the youth by using insights offered by the author.


After finishing the story, return to your descriptor list and highlight the moods and emotions you observed in the writing.

To help you reflect on what you have read, carefully respond to the eight learning prompts.


Now try writing your own atmospheric story. Refer to the narrative writing instruction page and carefully follow the directions. Don't forget to include lots of details. And remember to revise, revise, revise!

"Atmosphere aids the reader in stepping into your world a little more, getting an idea what your character sees, hears, smells. . .what's it like in the room. A lot lies in details. . .drapes across the window or flung open to emit the summer sun. The smell of perfume versus the smell of dust and long years locked away." Megan O' Shea

Mood in Creative Writing

Quality is any characteristic or feature that makes something what it is.

Mood is a particular state of mind or feeling; happy, angry, worried , joyful; even hungry or curious.

Emotion is a strong feeling, such as love, hate, joy and fear.

Creative writing is showing imagination and inventiveness in writing.

The quality of mood in creative writing is the spirit, feelings and emotions used by the writer to involve the reader in the story. Mood improves both action and characterization and sets up the reader's expectations.

"The shorter the story, the more important each word becomes." Edgar Allen Poe

An Adaptation

Of Frank Stockton's
"The Lady or the Tiger"


In our story there lives a king, his beautiful daughter, who happens to be a princs, and a poor youth. The youth and princess are in love and plan to marry. The king disapproves of his daughter marrying a man of such a low station and puts him on trial for this crime. The youth is to be placed in an arena that contains two doors, standing side- by -side. One contains a beautiful maiden, the other a ferocious, man-eating tiger. The youth must choose which door to open. Depending on his choice, he will either be devoured on the spot, or instantly married. His choice determines his guilt or innocence. Complicating the plot is the hatred the princess feels towards the maiden, who is behind one of the doors. Jealous of her previous attention to the youth, she is horrified at the thought of her beloved marrying this girl. But she is equally horrified at the thought of the boy being torn to pieces in front of her eyes
On the appointed day, in front of thousands of onlookers, including the king and princess, the youth confronts his choice. By now the princess, with her charm and gold,

has discovered the secret of the doors. Intuitively, the youth is aware of this and as he stands in the arena, he quickly glances at the princess for a signal. The princess makes a quick gesture to the right, which is unseen by everyone but the youth. Without hesitation, the boy walks over to the door on the right and flings it open. You'll have to read the adaptation that follows to find out what happens. I hope you enjoy it.

"What I like in a good author isn't what he says, but what he whispers."

Logan Pearsall Smith
Frank Stockton's

"The Lady or the Tiger"

A Younger Reader's Version By

Dennis Tierney

In olden days there lived a king who was half -civilized. When one of his subjects was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to interest the king, public notice was given that on the appointed day the fate of the accused person would be decided in the king's arena.

When all the people had assembled in the galleries, the king, surrounded by his court, sat on his throne, and gave a signal. A door beneath him opened, and the accused subject stepped into the arena. Directly opposite him, on the other side of the enclosed space, were two doors, exactly alike and side-by-side. It was the duty and privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to those doors and open one of them. He could open either door; he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of chance. If he opened one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and cruelest that could be gotten, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces, as a punishment for his guilt. The moment that the case was decided, and sorrowful bells were clanged, great wails went up from the hired mourners, and the vast audience, with bowed heads and downcast hearts, walked slowly their homeward way, mourning greatly that one so young and fair, or so old and respected, should have merited so terrible a fate.
But if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years that his majesty could select from among his fair subjects, and to this lady he was immediately married. It mattered not that he might already have a wife and family, or that his affections might be engaged upon a girl of his own selection; the king allowed no such thing to interfere with his great scheme of punishment or reward. The marriage, as in the other instance, took place immediately, in the arena. Another door opened beneath the king, and a priest, followed by a band of singers and dancing maidens, blowing joyous notes on golden horns, advanced to where pair stood, side-by-side, and the wedding was promptly and cheerfully held. Then the brass bells rang forth their merry peals, the people shouted glad hurrahs, and the innocent man, preceded by children tossing
flowers in his path, led his bride home.
This was the king's half-civilized method of administering justice. Its perfect fairness is obvious. The criminal could not know out of which door would come the lady; he opened the one he pleased, without having the slightest idea whether, in the next instant, he was to be devoured or married. On some occasions the tiger came out of one door, and on some out the other. The decisions of this court were not only firm, they were positively self-determined; the accused person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty, and, if innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not.
The institution was a very popular one. When the people gathered on one of the great trial days, they never knew whether they were to witness a bloody slaughter or an hilarious wedding. This element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion that it could not otherwise have attained. Thus, the masses were entertained and pleased, and the smarter element of the community could bring no charge of unfairness against his plan, for did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?
Now this semi- civilized king had a beautiful daughter, with a soul as passionate as his own. As is usual in such cases, she was the apple of his eye, and was loved by him above all humanity. Among his subjects was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of occupation common to conventional heroes of romance, who loved royal maidens. This royal maiden was satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in the entire kingdom and she loved him with a passion exceedingly warm and strong. This love affair moved on happily for many months, until one day the king happened to discover it. He did not hesitate in regard to his duty. The youth was immediately cast into prison, and a day was appointed for his trial in the king's arena.
This of course, was an especially important occasion, and his majesty, as well as all the people, was greatly interested in the development of the trial. Never before had such a case occurred; never before had a subject dared to love the daughter of a king. In after years such things became commonplace enough, but back then they were startling.

The tiger-cages of the kingdom were searched for the most savage and relentless beasts, from which the fiercest monster might be selected for the arena; and the ranks of maidens throughout the land were carefully surveyed by competent judges in order that the young man might have a fitting bride in case fate did not determine for him a different destiny. Of course, everybody knew that the deed, with which the accused was charged, had been done. He had loved the princess, and neither he, she, nor any one else, thought of denying the fact; but the king would not think of allowing anything interfere with the workings of the court No matter how the affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of, and the king would take great pleasure in watching the course of events, which would determine whether or not the young man had done wrong in allowing himself to love the princess.
The appointed day arrived. From far and near the people gathered, and thronged the great galleries of the arena, and crowds, unable to gain admittance, massed themselves against its outside walls. The king and his court were in their places, opposite the twin doors,
This, othose fateful entrances, so terrible in their sameness.
All was ready. The signal was given. A door beneath the royal party opened, and the lover of the princess walked into the arena. Tall, handsome, fair, his appearance was greeted
with a hum of admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!

As the youth advanced into the arena he turned to bow to the king, but he did not think of that royal person at all.. His eyes were fixed upon the princess, who sat to the right of her father. Had it not been for the wildness in her nature it is probable that she would not have been there, but her intense soul would not allow her to be absent on such an occasion. From the moment that the decree had gone forth that her lover should decide his fate in the king's arena, she had thought of nothing else, night or day, but this great event. Possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any other person, she had done what no other person had done,--she had discovered the secret of the doors. She knew in which of the two rooms stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front, and in which waited the lady. Through these thick doors, it was impossible that any noise should come forth from within to the person who approached to raise the latch. But gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.
And not only did she know in which room stood the lady, ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was. It was one of the
fairest and loveliest ladies of the court, who had been selected as a reward for the accused youth, should he be proved innocent of the crime of loving one so far above him; and the princess hated her. Often she had seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were noticed, and even returned. Now and then she had seen them talking together; it was only for a moment or two, but much can be said in a brief space; it may have been on the most unimportant topics, but how was she to know? The girl was lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of uncivilized ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door. When her lover turned and looked at her, and his eye met hers, he saw, by the power of quick perception which is given to those who love each other, that she knew behind which door crouched the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. He had expected her to know. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden from all other on-lookers, even the king. The only hope for the youth was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded.
Then it was that his quick and anxious glance asked the question: "Which?" It was as plain to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked in a flash; it must be answered in another.
Her right arm lay upon the cushioned railing before her. She raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.
He turned, and with a firm and rapid step, walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.
Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?
The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart, which leads us through evil mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way. Think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?
How often, in her waking hours, had she started in wild terror, and covered her face with her hands as she thought of her lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the cruel fangs of the tiger!
But how much oftener had she seen him at the other door! How in her nightmares had she gnashed her teeth, and torn her hair, when she saw his look of delight as he opened the door of the lady! How her soul had burned in agony when she had seen him rush to meet that woman, with her flushing cheek and sparkling eyes; when she had seen him lead her

forth, his whole frame alive with the joy of recovered life; when she had heard the glad shouts from the crowd, and the wild ringing of the happy bells; when she had seen the priest, with his joyous followers, advance to the couple, and make them man and wife before her very eyes; and when she had seen them walk away together upon their path of flowers, followed by the tremendous shouts of the crowd, in which her one despairing shriek was lost and drowned!
Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of the after-life?
And yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!
Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.
The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door, --the lady, or the tiger?

Starter List of Mood Descriptors
Your choice

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." Mark Twain

Sample #1

Walking down the stairs, Brenna smelled the pancakes. She opened the kitchen door and walked in. Her mom was busy at the stove.
"Morning Brenna."
"Morning mom."
On the table was a stack of pancakes, butter and maple syrup. A glass of orange juice sat at Brenna's place.
"Glad you didn't oversleep," said Kate.
"No way," replied Brenna.
Soon the two were eating breakfast. Then the screen door opened.
"Prepare to die" a voice said.
Kate and Brenna stared at each other.
"Morning everybody," said Cassie, their neighbor.
On her shoulder sat a parrot.
"Where's the grub?" it asked.
"Meet Loretta," Cassie said.
Delighted," said Kate.

"Good writers write about what they know, either through their own experience or can learn through research." Raymond Chandler

Sample #2

Every Saturday morning, for as long as Brenna could remember, her mother had prepared a mouth-watering breakfast. On these special days calories weren't counted, diets were forgotten. Today was no different.
Bounding down the stairs, three at a time, Brenna smelled the tantalizing aroma of homemade pancakes. Clearing the last five steps with a leap, she burst into the bright, sunlit kitchen. Her mother, Kate was bending over the stove.
"Good morning sweet cakes," she sang out to Brenna.
Brenna returned her greeting with a smile. Her eyes were already scanning the heaping mounds of fluffy pancakes, stacks of golden yellow butter and pitchers of maple syrup.
A frosty glass of fresh orange juice completed the scene.
"Thought you were going to sleep through breakfast," Kate joked.
"Not!" exclaimed Brenna.
Missing Saturday breakfast at the Swain's house was not an option.
Soon the two were lost in a symphony of rich food. They barely heard the sound of the screen door being carefully opened.
Suddenly a voice shrieked. "Prepare to die! Prepare to die!"
Frozen in their places, their forks slipping through quivering fingers, mother and daughter stared at each other. Kate whirled in her chair, her eyes darting in search of a weapon. Brenna leaped right off the floor!
"Morning, everybody'" a familiar voice chirped.
The familiar figure of Cassie, best friend of the Swain's sauntered over to the table. She was grinning broadly. On her shoulder perched a parrot. It was gray and scarlet with curious blue eyes.

"Where's the grub?" The parrot squawked

"Meet Loretta," Cassie chimed.
"Delighted," said Kate, audibly breathing a sigh of relief.

"Assessment is not something we tack on to learning. It is thehorse that leads the cart of understanding."
Rebecca Simmons

Extended Learning Prompts

1. Who came out the door, the lady or the tiger?
2. How did the princess find out the secret of the doors?
3. Why did the youth believe the princess and go to the door on the right?
4. If you were in the arena would you believe the princess? Why or why not?
5. Pretend you are the princess. To which door would you point? Explain.
6. Did you like the way the author ended the story?
How would you have ended it?
7. Visualize and retell different parts of the story. What moods and emotions did you experience? How did these feelings help you participate in the story?
8. Have you read any other stories that were moody and atmospheric? List some and explain how the author showed these traits.

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

Ben Franklin

Narrative Criteria

In your page-long narrative be sure to:

Include a beginning, middle and an end. Remember to indent at the beginning of each paragraph.

Pay close attention to correct spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, capitalization and word usage.

Describe a situation where you had to make a difficult choice.

Create word scenes that describe the emotions or moods you felt while making that choice.

Involve the reader in your story by using mood and atmosphere to awaken their emotions.

Use mood descriptors and vivid and specific describing words to

Create lively pictures in the minds of your readers.

Proofread and revise your draft copy until it's ready to publish.

Evaluation will be based on assessing your essay against the Narrative Criteria.