An serious discussion

Well, sort of. I've been doing these workshop things at Fyvie Castle today -- one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and a reading in-between. I get to do 'plotting' and 'atmosphere', which somehow implies I know what I'm doing. Which, obviously, I don't. Well, maybe a little. But only a little. Smaller than a halved mouse anyway.

The plotting bit is the easiest to do: I just start in on the whole mind-map thing and make everyone join in. Then I make them do one of their own, using it to plan out a protagonist, and lo and behold nearly everyone drifts off and starts sticking down plot details as they go through the process. What starts out as a character description ends up being an idea for a story. Which I think's a good thing: after all, books are always supposed to be character driven, aren't they? So what can be better than a plot that come from the character in the first place? So that bit seems to be working out OK.

What's a bit more difficult to pin down is this whole 'atmosphere' thing. As far as I'm concerned, every single bloody word you write contributes to the atmosphere of your story. The number of words you use, how complicated your images, dialogue, action -- everything. It all changes the way someone reads the story.

So it's kind of a moveable feast. Difficult to pin down, because at the end of the day it's everything. Right now I'm kinda freewheeling and going for the 'shortest is bestest' approach for this stuff. Getting them to summarize their descriptions and put them in the right place so they set the scene early on. But I have to wonder if there isn't a trick out there I'm missing.

Anyone got any thoughts on what makes for effective atmosphere in a book? I've got to do this stuff all over again tomorrow, so any help is much appreciated!