Absorption and Reflection

Atmosphere has been described as the umbrella of elements that make up the story. As I’ve read our posts this month, I’ve come to realize that atmosphere is also a sponge. It both feeds, and feeds on, the emotions filling and surrounding a space.

Consider, for example, the organization lead by a strong but fair leader, someone who presents a level, calm persona. She may get frustrated or angry, but those emotions come from a warm center; a place of careful thought and positivity. Employees feed on that positive energy, and reflect it back, creating a small universe of shared goodness.

However, there may be those who don’t fit in, who cannot recognize the many positive characteristics of the team and it’s leadership, for any number of reasons–perhaps they feel they deserved the leadership role, or perhaps the leader has called them out on their laziness or carelessness–and they begin to create a little dark cloud of negativity, a miasma within their space, that those around them begin to recognize–and likely avoid–for the energy-sucking experience that it is. Like a black hole, this kind of miasma sucks in and makes goodness disappear, negatively affecting our happy atmostpher. Chances are good that this negative Nellie will eventually be managed out the door, or leave on his/her own.

However, if the energy sucker is in a leadership position, or is able to contaminate those around him/her, their miasma grows. Suddenly, the atmosphere surround our community is much different. If allowed to grow big enough, dark enough, I envision it behaving much like the blackness in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Obviously, I’m no longer talking your regular office politics at this point! Now, I’m talking about an atmosphere so dark, so all-encompassing, that it simply seems to swallow all goodness.

I find it difficult to write this extreme form of the miasma, but I know it’s critical to the kind of stories I wish to write. Darkness, that I can write just fine. But what I’m describing is much more than just darkness; what I’m describing is that darkness that reaches all the way to hopelessness and despair. My nature just doesn’t naturally go there, and I struggle to understand the motivations, deliberate or unintended, that cause someone to have and hold that kind of negative energy.

What I’m fascinated by right now, however, is the concept of atmosphere sponging up the emotions and energy of a space, with an almost reflecting effect. (I’m picturing some sort of bizarre hall of mirrors right now, with emotions zipping back and forth; I think I’m tired!) The atmosphere around us isn’t fixed in time and space, as much as it affects us, we affect it. I suspect, if I put some study into it, I might find that I’m drawn to those stories where the author does a good job writing an atmosphere and character that change together. Hmm. . .not where I meant to end up when I began writing this post, but now that I’m here. . .I guess I’ve written myself something new to think about!

Anyway, what do you think? Is the atmosphere of a story or scene fixed, or is it more alive, more sponge-like, much as the characters surrounded by it are?

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

8 thoughts on “Absorption and Reflection”

  1. This post is terrific. Similar but different to the one I’m working on for Wednesday.

    You ask if atmosphere is fixed or alive, and like Mary said, I think it depends on the story.

  2. I vote ‘sponge.’ As others have said, internally the author affects the story. But also externally, the reader brings to the situation all of their own baggage which colors their take on the story. On Facebook, for example, I’ll post the most innocuous comment or a meme I find hilarious, and the Know-It-Alls or the Eeyores in my life will attach so many things that simply aren’t there, as I see it. It’s kind of weird to witness sometimes. On facebook I have a delete key that I happily use. If only there were one for Negative Nellies in real life … or reviews!

  3. Really cool and thought-provoking post, Pamela! I’m echoing the others, but I think atmosphere is a sponge, and I think it’s characters’ actions or reactions that can put it in flux. The way you described the energy sucking made me think of Dementors from Harry Potter–what a way to completely change the atmosphere of a scene!

  4. Wow! You opened up a whole new concept for me. (I don’t know if you were going there). Atmosphere can be a character as well. We hear all the time place can be a character, but I never heard anyone talk about atmosphere. Seems to me Stephen King was working with something like that in Joyland. It was about an amusement park that slithered from kitschy to creepy. I need to think about this some more.

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