April 13 – 19: “Does your mood affect the scenes you’re writing?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week ITW Members Jean Heller, Colin Campbell and J. H. Bográn discuss whether your mood affects the scenes you’re writing, like letting anger make better fight scenes?

hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, “Maximum Impact” and “Handyman” by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, “The Someday File,” to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.


Snake Pass by Colin CampbellEx Army, retired cop and former Scenes Of Crime Officer, Colin Campbell is the author of British crime novels, Blue Knight White Cross, and Northern Ex, and US thrillers Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights, Adobe Flats and Snake Pass. His Jim Grant thrillers bring a rogue Yorkshire cop to America where culture clash and violence ensue.



TreasureHunt_Ebook_2J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild, Crime Writer’s Fiction and the International Thriller Writers. He lives in Honduras with his family and a “lucky” dog.



  1. Interesting question. I’m usually pretty focused on what I want to accomplish when I sit down at the computer and open a manuscript file. And since I like to write, being there and doing that usually puts me in a pretty good mood. Yet that doesn’t stop me from writing some fairly grim stuff.

    I actually think, with me, it works the other way around. If I’m writing something sad or poignant, I’m likely to find tears running down my face, even though I know it is fiction. When that happens, it usually takes me several hours to shake it, and that probably has an impact on my outlook, maybe even my behavior.

    The most graphic example I can recall is when I tried to find catharsis after my husband died by writing a novel about a character facing that same terrible grief. It didn’t work. I was way, way too close to the subject, even a year after the fact.

  2. This is a very interesting question and I must admit I haven’t thought much about it before. However, thinking about it now, I have to say that, for me, mood is very important in my writing. I wouldn’t say I have to feel angry to write a fight scene, but at the same time, there are occasions when I need to feel a particular way before I can come up with a suitable slant to the narrative. For, example, if I am trying to construct a tragic circumstance which requires my readers to empathise with a particular character, I need to be there myself first for the piece to come across as credible. Equally, if I want my readers to really hate my key villain, I have to hate him myself first. Dramatic scenes are also influenced by mood; to conjure up the right degree of suspense, I have to be carried along with what is happening. It is all right constructing short sentences and phrases to create suspense, but the excitement has to be inside me to start with.
    I find the best way to influence the mood I am looking for is to clear the mind of other domestic worries or influences and then to play music that fits the occasion. For example, in a thriller I am currently writing, the action is centred on the dark world of national security, so to provide the right atmosphere for me, I might play appropriate music from such spy films as The Ipcress File, The Quiller Memorandum or James Bond movies, like The Man With The Golden Gun or You Only Live Twice. If pathos is called for, then I might resort to Midnight Cowboy or Out of Africa which trigger the right responses in me personally.
    Other writers may use other mechanisms, but for me music works like nothing else, as this taps into our natural emotions as human beings.

    David Hodges

  3. I wrote the short story, GRANTED after a particularly stressful day with my wife. I vented my anger by having Jim Grant kick a door open in the first line. All that twisted metal and splintering wood felt great. Didn’t help my marriage much though, sadly. Other than that I can’t say my mood affects my writing. More the opposite. If I’m writing a fast paced action scene my pulse starts racing. Slower, more internal passages calm me down. I can’t repeat how I felt when I wrote the shower sex scene in JAMAICA PLAIN.

  4. I find listening to music helps to separate me from the distractions of my surroundings and get my mind into the story. Music from the Internet radio is readily available. Ambient New Age music is a good backdrop for my action scenes and classical fits the bill for the romantic and lighter scenes. My son Art Kerns writes electronic music and I’ll slip one of his CDs into the computer and let the vibes do what they will. Sometimes very interesting results occur.
    After the music settles me into the writing world, my characters and their story lines are what send me into their emotional worlds. I just keep up with them along their ups and downs.

  5. Both David and Arthur mentioned music as a mood-altering writing device. I have always found music distracting. I wind up listening closely to the tunes and letting my focus on the manuscript drift off. But maybe I’m choosing the wrong kind of music. Perhaps I should be more selective in trying to match my choices to my writing.

    I’m willing to give music another shot. Thanks, guys.

  6. I’m with you on the music, Jean. If I put a John Barry soundtrack on I end up living the movie. Maybe while I’m preparing to get in the mood but not once I’m writing.

    1. Colin, it makes me wonder what I would be writing while listening to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. If I were writing something tragic, I would choose the magnificent Adagio for Strings, Op. 11.

      1. If you’re trying to place Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, it was the title music for the movie, “Platoon,” and oh, so many other things.

    2. I don’t do musical scores for writing. I’m a big fan of John Williams but you’re right, I end up whipping a lightsaber or pulling up my feet afraid of a shark bite.
      However, I recently fell in love with the I AM THE DOCTOR score they used for Matt Smith in Doctor Who. It is a superb piece on its own right. Makes me sad they don’t use it for Capaldi.

  7. I must admit that my mood affects my writing. I found that the hard way a long time ago as I was writing an argument between siblings for a TV serial. It was supposed to be a nice little exchange of reproaches but ended up with a out-of-line comments. You know, the kind that earn a slap to the face.
    The fun part is that I don’t recall what I was angry about when I wrote that scene, but I sure channeled it.

    As for music, I have four words for it: Can’t write without it!
    Imagine a fight sequence while listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody…yeah good, isn’t?
    Since I write in both English and Spanish, there was a time when I would write in one language while listening to music in the other. That kept me on my toes.
    In later times I caught myself a few times singing along with the tunes, so I switched to instrumentals. One of my favorite stations is Jazz Radio dot com. Still use it all the time.

  8. I put a playlist together called Crimebeat that I often play before writing. Includes great mood setters like, The Sopranos, The Wire, True Detective opening and closing themes, Dirty Harry (with do I feel lucky speech) and a fantastic pice by Jerry Goldsmith from Extreme Prejudice; No Friendlies. Plus classics like, Bullitt, Ipcress File and Get Carter. Oh and my ringtone is the James Bond Theme. Let the writing commence.

    1. Colin. I never thought of creating my own playlist. Think I’ll try building one. You’ve come up with a very interesting list. Been running your themes through my mind and can see how they put you in the right mood for our genres.

MATCH UP: In stores now!


ThrillerFest XVI: Register Today!



One of the most successful anthologies in the history of publishing!