Criminal Mischief: Episode #08: Mood and Tone in Crime Fiction
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Mood and Tone NOTES:
Setting the mood and tone in crime fiction should be done up front.
The opening passages tell the reader the type of world they are entering and what they can expect.
The opening might give character insights, setting, and the basics of the crime—and reveal the voice.
What’s the difference between mood and tone?
Tone is the author’s attitude
Mood is the atmosphere and emotion the author creates
So, tone reflects the author’s attitude while mood is how the reader feels about the story.
Mood and Tone can be revealed through word choice, sentence structure, formal vs informal writing, point of view, objective vs subjective, rhythm, setting, action, dialog, voice—in short, all the tools of storytelling.
Like other fiction, mood and tone in crime stories runs the gamut—dark, light, noir, cozy, suspenseful, humorous, quirky, creepy, supernatural, you name it.
The Long Goodbye–Raymond Chandler
When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn’t have one. I didn’t care. I finished the drink and went to bed.
Ernest Hemingway—A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference.
The Concrete Blonde—Michael Connelly
The house in Silverlake was dark, its windows as empty as a dead man’s eyes. It was an old California Craftsman with a full front porch and two dormer windows set on the long slope of the roof. But no light shone behind the glass, not even from above the doorway. Instead, the house cast a foreboding darkness about it that not even the glow from the streetlight could penetrate. A man could be standing there on the porch and Bosch knew he probably wouldn’t be able to see him.
“You sure this is it?” he asked her.
“Not the house,” she said. “Behind it. The garage. Pull up so you can see down the drive.”
Bosch tapped the gas pedal and the Caprice moved forward and crossed the entrance to the driveway.
“There,” she said.
Bosch stopped the car. There was a garage behind the house with an apartment above it. Wooden staircase up the side, light over the door. Two windows, lights on inside.
“Okay,” Bosch said.
They stared at the garage for several moments. Bosch didn’t know what he expected to see. Maybe nothing. The whore’s perfume was filling the car and he rolled his window down. He didn’t know whether to trust her claim or not. The one thing he knew he couldn’t do was call for backup. He hadn’t brought a rover with him and the car was not equipped with a phone.
“What are you going to – – there he goes!” she said urgently.
Bosch had seen it, the shadow of a figure crossing behind the smaller window. The bathroom, he guessed.
“He’s in the bathroom,” she said. “That’s where I saw all the stuff.”
Bosch looked away from the window and at her.
“I, uh, checked the cabinet. You know, when I was in there. Just looking to see what he had. A girl has to be careful. And I saw all the stuff. Makeup shit. You know, mascara, lipsticks, compacts and stuff. That’s how I figured it was him. He used all that stuff to paint ‘em when he was done, you know, killing them.”
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe—Douglas Adams
In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
In Cold Blood—Truman Capote
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of Western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with it’s hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, and a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.
Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life—to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4-H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises— on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again— those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.
Miami Purity—Vicki Hendricks
Hank was drunk and he slugged me – – it wasn’t the first time – – and I picked up the radio and caught him across the forehead with it. It was one of those big boom boxes with the cassette player and recorder, but I never figured it would kill him. We were sitting in front of the fan, listing to country music and sipping Jack Daniels – – calling each other “toots” like we both enjoyed – – and all of a sudden the whole world changed. My old man was dead. I didn’t feel like I had anything to do with it. I didn’t make that choice.
I spent a few days in jail till the law decided I wasn’t to blame. It was Hank’s long record got me out. He was known to the cops. Afterwards I went on drinking and missing that son of a bitch like hell. There were several months I don’t know what I was doin. He had a terrible mean streak, but we were good together – – specially when we got our clothes off.
At some point I woke up from a blackout and was in the hospital. I had vague memories of some asshole buying me drinks, and him on top of me in a musty smelling car. There were flashes of fist and the sound of it against my jaw, but I wasn’t sure whose fist it was – – I could’ve been mixing up another time. The nurse told me I looked like I’d been kicked, beat up so bad I was lucky to be alive. I don’t know why I believed her – – about being lucky – – but after they patched me up and dried me out for a while I was ready to give it a go. Really try to make myself a life, for the very first time. It was a big mistake.
Run To Ground–D. P. Lyle
“I can still smell him.” Martha Foster inhaled deeply and closed her eyes.
Tim stood just inside the doorway and looked down at his wife. She sat on the edge of their son’s bed, eyes moist, chin trembling, as were the fingers that clutched the navy-blue Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt to her chest. It had been Steven’s favorite. He had slept in it every night the first month, until Martha finally pried it away long enough to run it through the wash.
Behind her, a dozen photos of Steven lay scattered across the blue comforter. A proud Steven in his first baseball uniform. A seven-year-old Steven, grinning, upper left front tooth missing, soft freckles over his nose, buzz-cut hair, a blue swimming ribbon dangling around his neck. A playful Steven, sitting next to Martha at the backyard picnic table, face screwed into a goofy expression, smoke from the Weber BBQ rising behind them. Tim remembered the day he snapped the picture. Labor Day weekend. Just six months before that day. He squeezed back his own tears and swallowed hard.
Martha shifted her weight and twisted toward the photos. She laid the sweatshirt aside and reached out, lightly touching an image of Steven’s face. The trembling of her delicate fingers increased. She said nothing for a moment and then, “I’m taking these.”
Tim walked to where she sat and pulled her to him, her cheek nestling against his chest, her tears soaking through his tee shirt. He kissed the top of her head.
“He’s gone,” Martha said. “Everything’s gone. Or will be.”
Sunshine State—DP Lyle (My next Jake Longly comedic thriller—coming 5-21-19)
Here’s the deal. Ray thinks I’m a wimp. Has for years. The best I can remember it began around the time I left major league baseball. For several years, I pitched for the Texas Rangers. Could really bring the heat. A hundred miles an hour. Zip, pop. Loved that sound. Loved that the catcher would often shake his hand out after snagging one of my fastballs. That was me. Jake Longly, baseball stud. Everybody said so. Even the ESPN folks.
Not so Ray. He never actually used the word wimp. Pussy. That’s the one he preferred. Four weeks ago being his most recent assessment.
Nicole Jamison, my current girlfriend, love interest, whatever she was, I wasn’t sure yet, had laughed. Rude, but she does love getting her shots in. Besides, she just might’ve agreed with him. Mostly. Not in bed, mind you. I’m freaking Godzilla in the sack. Really, I am. I think she would agree. In fact, just last night, if I remember correctly, there was tequila involved, she invoked God a couple of times. Or it could’ve been my echo. Lord knows I called on Him a couple of times.
Okay, I added the zilla part. So, sue me. No, wait, don’t. The best attorney in town, Walter Horton, is married to my ex-wife, Tammy the insane. He’d already done a colonoscopy on my wallet. Probably wouldn’t hesitate to encore that performance.
So, let’s just say Nicole and I have fun.
Regardless, she and Ray conspired to enroll us in martial arts classes. Actually, some craziness based on Krav Maga and several other disciplines mixed into a soup of pain, mayhem, and considerable bodily harm. Taught by an ex-Mossad guy that Ray knew from back in the day. Ben Levitsky. Six-two, lean and muscular, the body fat of a distance runner, and no nonsense. No wonder he and Ray got along.
Ray Longly. My father. Owner of Longly Investigations. An outfit that, depending on your definition, employs Nicole. Speaking of employing, Ray has used every trick in his considerable bag of mischief to drag me into his business. But, I prefer Captain Rocky’s, my just dive-y enough bar/restaurant on the sand in Gulf Shores. I’d much rather hang out there with Pancake, who really does work for Ray. He also thinks I should sign on with Ray. Not going to happen. At least, not officially.
Seems like despite this resolve, I repeatedly get dragged into Ray’s world. And end up throwing baseballs at hitmen, or whacking alligators with baseball bats, stuff like that.
Captain Rocky’s is much safer.