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BTSS Release Week: How Atmosphere & Visuals Impact the Storytelling Experience

How Atmosphere & Visuals Impact the Storytelling Experience

If you’ve ever read any of my books before, or even if Beneath the Starlit Sea is your first adventure into my fiction, I hope that it will be relatively apparent that I focus a lot of writing effort on putting together an atmosphere that readers can feel, dig into, and surround themselves in. I find that because of this, my writing somewhat borders on the line of commercial versus literary in an occasionally awkward place known as upmarket, which feels like a bit of a gray area for books that don’t fall into one category instead of the other. Personally, it’s a spot I quite like to be in but I can appreciate that it can be a bit of a harder sell when looking for agents or a publisher—or even readers.

Beneath the Starlit Sea is the kind of romantic fantasy that I always wanted to read. A little of this, a little of that, combined together with lush writing and rich environments that are reminiscent of a video game in story format, enhancing the reader’s ability to picture what is going on around them in the text, and convert it into an active, imaginative thought. But writing it doesn’t always come that easily—particularly when I’m sitting at my desk in the middle of a snowy day with three cats meowing at me because they all want to go sit on the back patio and watch the blizzard surround them.

I suppose, when I think about it a bit longer, the title of this article might be a bit misleading. While the way you feel can—and does—affect the way you work, the way your mind responds to your text and the fashion in which you ground yourself in the writing process are equally important. For me, I need earplugs, headphones, a dark night, the sound of rain, and the tap-tap-tap of my ‘silent’ keyboard keys in order to be most productive. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be productive in other environments, it’s just a little harder.

Because I crawl into my own head during the drafting process of any new book, I like readers to be able to draw into their own experiences and do the same. I like them to explore the idea of an upmarket, romantic fantasy book that pulls in luxurious environmental elements and deep conversations. I think because of this, I always hoped that Beneath the Starlit Sea would be the kind of story that readers would consume in one or two sittings, unable to tear themselves from the connection between Illyse and Garit and the fun-loving relief of Thierry. Perhaps I feel this way because the book was crafted initially during NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and literally spilled out of me during the course of that November in one fell swoop over 30 days.

However, the atmosphere in which I wrote it was greatly different than the seasons in which the book takes place. When you open the novel, you’ll notice that the book is divided into three sections—and maybe based on this post it would sound like I wrote one seasonal section at a time. Because I was able to reflect in on myself and the world around me, listening to some silence or music at the same time, I was able to put together what I hope are accurate depictions of scenery that I can only hope feel absolutely real. Even if I wasn’t experiencing them at the same time as Illyse and Garit.

Speaking of Illyse and Garit, I’ve put together mood boards of things that I think represent them best. Sometimes in creating an atmosphere, it’s possible to need visuals to help sort out the types of things that you want to say, or the sort of aesthetic feel you’d like your writing to have. Even though I might have been writing Beneath the Starlit Sea in the throes of the change from fall to winter here in Canada, I was able to put together springtime scenes with the help of trusty Google, Pinterest, and musical (and video game!) influences. I’ve collected some of these photographs for you to feast your eyes upon and included them here, some reflecting more on Garit than they do on Illyse, and the other way around.

What kind of story would you create with these visual prompts?

How do you feel after looking at these photo collections?

And… can you pick out the visuals that inspired certain sections of the book?

I had so much fun creating the atmosphere of Sjokanten and Beneath the Starlit Sea, and I truly hope you feel inspired by the depth of the fantasy world, while falling in love with Illyse and Garit’s journey.

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