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Mood in Literature

Have you ever started reading a horror novel and felt creeped out? Every time we read, we feel certain emotions connected to the kind of story it is. This is known as the mood. For example, if a story starts like “Harry was excited for his school trip to the zoo”, it will most likely have a fun and casual mood. Let’s learn more about mood in literature.

What is Mood in Literature?

Mood in literature refers to the feelings you take away from reading the story. The mood of a story affects your mood in real life! It is an important tool used by authors to make their stories more interesting and to give you a sense of what’s to come. A single book can have many different moods at different points.

Definition of Mood in Literature

Mood in literature is the general atmosphere and emotions the author wants the reader to feel while reading the book. A story’s mood is created with the help of the setting, imagery, the types of words used, and their tone.

Examples of Mood in Literature

Humorous: this mood contains funny incidents and hilarious situations that make you laugh. In Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, the characters experience several comical events and misunderstandings that make the story amusing.

Madness: this mood is chaotic and absurd. Random events take place and characters often do illogical things. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in a weird world with a smiling cat, a talking caterpillar, playing-card soldiers, and several other strange creatures!

Mysterious: this mood is suspenseful and thrilling. It can also be scary and gripping, like in horror stories. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle features a puzzling, ominous mood as detective Sherlock Holmes tries to uncover the mysterious identity of a fearsome and supernatural hound.

Tone vs Mood

Tone refers to the author’s use of words and their writing style. It shows the author’s feelings towards a topic or a character. It’s different from the mood of the story since a mood is all about the reader’s feelings. 

The mood also might differ from reader to reader, but the tone of the author remains the same. On some occasions, the tone and mood of the story might be the same.

Elements of Mood


A story’s setting refers to when and where it takes place. It’s one of the first things an author describes and is important in creating the mood. For example, a story that takes place in a haunted house at night will likely create a scary, gloomy mood.


An author’s tone shows their attitude towards the story. The tone might complement the mood. For example, an author writing about something that frustrates them might use an angry tone, to create an angry mood for the reader as well.

The tone can also create contrast with the mood, to create suspense. For instance, in a horror novel, the main characters might be camping in the forest. While the tone of the passage might be lighthearted if the characters are having fun, the mood of the story might be frightening. 


The author’s choice of words and their style of writing sentences is called the diction of the story. For example, an author might use old English words like ‘thy’ and ‘thee’ instead of ‘your’ and ‘you’ to create a Shakespearean mood.

Subject Matter

Subject Matter refers to the main theme of a story or the plot of the story. Clearly, this has the most important role in forming the mood. For instance, a murder mystery will usually require surprising plot twists to create a suspenseful mood.


Imagery refers to the way authors describe physical things in a story to create a mental picture in the reader’s mind. For instance, an author might create vivid imagery of a grand buffet by describing the various foods and smells, to create a bright and pleasant mood.

Mood vs Atmosphere 

Mood and atmosphere both refer to the emotional feelings inspired in a reader by literature. But there’s a slight difference between them. The atmosphere is generally linked to a specific place in the story and affects the mood of the characters as well as the audience. 

For example, if the hero of a novel finds himself in the villain’s secret lair, the atmosphere of the place would be mysterious and dark. This contributes to the story’s overall tense mood.

Adjectives Commonly Used to Describe Mood

The mood of a story can be described using many adjectives. Positive adjectives include amusing, calming, dreamy, energetic, hopeful, idyllic, inspiring, loving, nostalgic and satisfying. Negative adjectives include anxious, confused, depressing, embarrassing, frustrating, hopeless, irritating, and restless.

Purpose of Mood in Literature

Authors create different moods for various purposes. A well-developed mood allows the reader to be invested in the story emotionally. The reader can identify with the characters and feel happy or sad, scared or hopeful with them. 

It also brings out the main theme of the story. A novel about death will have a somber mood, but one about love will have a romantic mood. This adds depth to the story and makes it engaging.

Case Study

Let’s look at Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This play’s subject matter deals with the death of a loved one and the resulting grief. Thus the mood is somber. Shakespeare also establishes a dark and fantasy-laden mood using setting, imagery, tone, and diction. 

The play opens with guards outside a castle at midnight. It’s a dark setting. They see Hamlet’s ghost roaming the grounds. Shakespeare describes the sound of the ghost’s footsteps to create scary imagery. A guard first speaks, “Who’s there?”. This sets a curious tone for the scene. 

Shakespeare also uses diction with dialogues like “It harrows me with fear and wonder” to frighten the reader. Shakespeare continues to develop the mood of the play, but this scene defines the overall mood as one of excitement, suspense, and dread. To date, it is one of Shakespeare’s strongest opening scenes.

Mood Outside of Literature

Mood exists in other forms of media too. For movies, a similar term is mise-en-scene. This refers to the setting and atmosphere of the movie, which helps build the overall mood. Movies use sets, props, lighting, and other effects to contribute to the mood as well. Mood can also exist in music. Some song genres like hip-hop and rap can be fast-paced and thrilling, while genres like classical music are more calming and peaceful.


Guess the mood in these passages:

The girl looked at the treasure map and tried to control her heartbeat, as she tried to find her way through the maze.

Calm or Exciting?

The man sat at the empty dining table and drank his single cup of tea. He looked outside his window at the dying tree in his backyard.

Lonely or Cheerful?

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