Posted On January 27, 2016 by Print This Post

Writing Night Scenes with Rayne Hall

Rayne Hall is back with a topic I’ve never considered – writing night scenes. What makes these scenes different? Read on.

Welcome Rayne!

Do you want a scene in your novel to be especially intense, emotional, creepy, scary, romantic or exciting?

Let it play out at night.

To create the right atmosphere, you need to trigger the reader’s senses differently than for a daytime scene. In this post, I’ll show you the techniques professional fiction authors use.

Use different senses. In the dark or semi-dark, your PoV character will see less than in bright light, so use the sense of vision less and the other senses more.

The sense of hearing is especially important. Insert several background noises, such as:

Outside, a car door slammed and a motor whined.
From the kitchen came the persistent drip-drop-drip of a leaking tap.
Water gurgled down the drainpipe.
Wind whispered through the branches and rustled the leaves.
Rain hammered on the window panes.

Insert sentences of this kind especially in moments of tense silence. They can help increase the suspense.

In the evening, most people’s sense of smell heightens, so you may want to mention the scents and odours of the place and the RayneHall - Fantasy Horror Author - reduced size Portrait by Fawnheartcharacters. However, this awareness lessens in the early morning hours. The temperature also affects the sense of smell – during a balmy night, the characters will notice more smells than if it’s cold.

Here are examples:

The rain sharpened the smells of smoke and earth.
He smelled of cigarettes and stale sweat.
She reeked of whisky and resentment.
Her scent was sweet, fruity, reminding him of the aroma of a freshly sliced peach.
The alley stank of rotting vegetables and piss.
From the entrance came the enticing smells of pizza and fried fish.

Any lights, whether nearby or faraway, will be noticeable at night, so mention lights. Here are some ideas for outdoor night scenes:

– car headlights
– street lamps (a row of them or a single one)
– lit windows in houses
– the glowing tip of a cigarette
– the stars (unless the sky is cloudy)
– neon advertising signs
– the moon (full, waxing, waning, crescent, gibbous?)
– a campfire
– lanterns
– torches
– the hazy cloud of light above a distant city
– any appliances in use (a tablet, a mobile phone)

Describe the colour, quality and movement of the light. Use your full creativity to come up with original, atmospheric descriptions.

Here are some examples to inspire your own ideas:

Stars winked like sequins on a dark velvet gown.
Torches waved their yellow flames in the gloom.
The light of the lantern shuddered in the darkness.
The silvery sheet of the lake’s surface darkened and lightened with every passing of a cloud.
Beams of light burst into the moonless night.
A pair of headlights sliced through the darkness.
The street lamps cast their sulphurous glow on the wet asphalt.
If the characters are indoors, your scene may be well-lit… but you can still show the source and quality of the light:

The overhead strip lights flickered to life.
The lamp cast its smoky light on the carpet.
The light bulb cast a pale glow, leaving the corners in shadow.
She relaxed in the generous glow of the clustered candles.
The log in the crate spluttered and fell apart, throwing orange sparks.

Artificial light affects how objects and people look. Candlelight tends to flatter the complexion, while white bulbs and neon tubes emphasise every wrinkle, blemish and scar. Use this effect in your descriptions.

To create a night-time atmosphere for your scene, also consider showing drawn curtains, or having your characters draw them against the approaching darkness.

If the scene takes place outdoors, show the weather and the temperature, the way your point-of-view character experiences them:

The night chill seeped through her jacket.
He tightened his hood and marched onwards through the battering storm.
Slivers of hail stung my cheeks.
Raindrops made needle streaks in the light of the street lamps.

Fear, danger, anxiety, uncertainty, are increased in the dark. By emphasising the darkness, you can create suspense and fear.

If you want to frighten your readers, give the point-of-view character light to see by at the beginning of the scene… and then take it away.

Here are some ideas how to achieve this:

– One by one, the candles burn down.
– The wind blows out the lantern.
– Rain extinguishes the campfire, or the character runs out of wood to burn.
– A power cut drops the whole house into darkness.
– The battery runs out.

Try the effect of diminishing light for any scary or creepy scene in your novel. Your readers will shiver with delighted fear.

Beginner writers often fail to create a convincing night-time experience because they don’t use the senses enough. Remember to use the senses of hearing, touch, smell and temperature, as well as other senses, such as taste, if relevant to the context.


Do you want to put the theory into practice? Here are two projects for you.

1. Go out at night—perhaps to a place that resembles a location in your WiP, or somewhere bizarre. If you dare, or walk through a rough neighbourhood or visit the local graveyard at night. Stay safe! Best take your dog or an understanding friend. If you don’t want to leave your home after dark, your own back garden can yield interesting material, or you can simply throw a window open and lean out to listen, look and smell. Absorb the lights, sounds and odours of the place. Collect as many observations as possible and write them down, for use in a future story.

2. Imagine the location of your night scene. What smells might the PoV character notice? What noises can be heard in the background? Where does the light come from, and what’s its colour, strength and effect? How does the ground feel underfoot? Write at least five sentences about the setting – as many of them as possible about a sense other than seeing – and sprinkle them throughout your scene.


WritingVividSettings RayneHall


Do you want your readers to feel like they’re really there—in the place where the story happens?
Whether you want to enrich stark prose with atmospheric detail, add vibrancy to a dull piece or curb waffling descriptions, this guide can help. Learn how to make your settings intense, realistic, and intriguing.


Bio: Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in RayneHall – Fantasy Horror Author – reduced size Portrait by Fawnheartseveral genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and more) and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.

She is a trained publishing manager, holds a masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.

Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian on the Sulu Vivid Settingssouth coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.

To learn more about Rayne, visit her website or follow her on Twitter where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.

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54 Responses to “Writing Night Scenes with Rayne Hall”

  1. I’d love to hear from Romance University readers who’re writing, revising or planning a night scene. Any questions? I’ll be happy to help.

    Posted by Rayne Hall | January 27, 2016, 1:09 am
    • I’ve actually just been revising a scene that leads into one of a romantic nature where the characters are walking home from an evening out. Lots of lights and things, and I forgot to make mention of them. I will now!
      Thanks for this, Rayne!

      Posted by Yurika Grant | January 27, 2016, 4:07 pm
  2. This is AWESOME, Rayne! Really stirred up my imagination. Settings are my favorite part of writing scenes, and you’ve just made them that much more exciting!

    Posted by Frances Brown w/a Claire Gem | January 27, 2016, 7:20 am
  3. Great post. Saved for when I’m writing my night scene–in a funeral home!!

    Posted by Carol Baldwin | January 27, 2016, 7:20 am
  4. This is one of the best posts I’ve read lately. My WIP is about a gargoyle, and he only comes to life at night, so this was not only a valuable post, it was timely as well. Wonderful information in here. Thanks.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | January 27, 2016, 8:32 am
    • What an imaginative concept, a gargoyle who comes to life at night! Is he the point of view character of the story? I wonder what sensory perceptions a gargoyle has. Can he hear, smell, feel temperatures like humans, or does he have limited (or a wider range of) senses?

      Posted by Rayne Hall | January 27, 2016, 11:55 am
      • He is one of two POV characters (a human woman is the other). I think the most powerful and vivid of his perceptions so far relate to his turning from stone to living creature, and then from living creature into a human form. Aside from the pain of the metamorphoses, he feels things differently in the three forms. As stone, not much of anything, other than frustration. As creature, his warrior senses are heightened. As human, more emotions come through. But all of his experiences (when he can move) are at night. It makes for interesting writing, the things he sees and feels and hears. And the differences in his forms are fun to play with, too.

        Posted by Staci Troilo | January 27, 2016, 2:28 pm
  5. Really great post. I’m a fan of night scenes.

    Posted by Mercy | January 27, 2016, 11:06 am
  6. Thanks for this post! I just wrote a short night scene yesterday (first draft stuff) and this post made me realize I don’t write many of them. Then again, I write light contemporary romance. Even if this scene might be completely cut in revisions, it has been helpful and inspiring and I’ll bookmark this for future night scenes.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | January 27, 2016, 11:33 am
    • I think I posted my reply in the wrong place, so I’m trying again.

      Hi Heatherly,
      I think a night scene can work really well in light contemporary romance. Imagine the couple on their first date, going for a stroll by the moonlit river after they’ve had dinner. or there’s a fire in the heroine’s apartment block, she rushes outside, and watches the firefighters at work, one of whom… 🙂 I’m sure you get my drift and your imagination will do the rest.


      Posted by Rayne Hall | January 27, 2016, 12:03 pm
  7. Hi Heatherly,
    I think a night scene can work really well in light contemporary romance. Imagine the couple on their first date, going for a stroll by the moonlit river after they’ve had dinner. or there’s a fire in the heroine’s apartment block, she rushes outside, and watches the firefighters at work, one of whom… 🙂 I’m sure you get my drift and your imagination will do the rest.

    Posted by Rayne Hall | January 27, 2016, 12:02 pm
  8. Thanks for sharing this, Rayne. I have to admit I never thought much about how a nighttime setting could affect a story. I’ll try this right away!

    Posted by DougK | January 27, 2016, 4:23 pm
  9. Night scenes are tough to write, especially outdoors scenes. After reading Rayne’s book I wish I’d thought to include local wildlife sounds to one scene—cicadas screeching and coyotes yipping in the distance—as my hero and his antagonist wander through the woods in search of a cavern entrance.

    In the future, if I’m not familiar with the locale, I will certainly research it on the web.

    Posted by Phillip T. Stephens | January 27, 2016, 6:54 pm
    • Hi Phillip,
      I think cicadas screeching and coyotes yipping in the distance would be fantastic, creating a strong sense of place (here in Britain, we have neither of those), and also make the experience exciting and real for the reader.
      The best way to research this on the web is to ask other writers in online groups and in the social media. “Any one live in [insert country]? What wildlife sounds can be heard at night? I need this for a fiction scene.” I always get useful answers, because the internet connects me with people all over the world, and other writers understand what I’m after.

      Posted by Rayne Hall | January 28, 2016, 1:00 am
  10. Your suggestions are really brilliant, Rayne. They seem obvious, and yet, obviously, they aren’t so obvious. 🙂 I’ll revise my older projects according to your advices, and write the new ones accordingly.

    Posted by Chris | January 27, 2016, 8:20 pm
  11. What a fascinating topic, Rayne – thanks so much!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 27, 2016, 11:04 pm
  12. This makes me realise that night scenes need a very careful approach. You need to know what you’re doing and have clear ideas about what can be done. Rayne’s post has given me very many ideas. Thank you.

    Posted by Judith Rook | January 29, 2016, 7:55 am
  13. Hi Judith,
    Yes, when crafting a work of fiction it helps to know what you’re doing. But I think it’s also good to just write it the best you can, and refine it later. Sometimes you realise only during the writing process what specific skills you need. Then you can learn them ad apply them to the draft.
    I’ve read many workshop stories and slushpile submissions where the authors obviously didn’t know how to write night scenes, and many didn’t even seem to realise that the experience for the PoV character (and thus the reader) is different.
    I think awareness what specific skills we need to learn is a big step towards mastery.

    Posted by Rayne Hall | January 30, 2016, 12:55 am
  14. I never thought about any of these tips when writing night scenes. Normally I just mention the sky was dark and continue on. It’s like I can see exactly how I want the scene to play out in my mind, but then when I’m writing, it just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. When writing a romance novel, I’m going to use these tips of coloring with the lights and sky to really give the reader a sense of what is going on.

    Posted by Christine Antosca | August 23, 2016, 1:51 pm
  15. I applied your first practice suggestion to my recent trip to the grocery store.

    “The evening filled with the scent of some night-blooming tree that smelled like cheap perfume. I walked carefully around the heaped blocks of sidewalk. The tree’s roots had undermined them, pulling them out of their flat, ordered placement, ripping out the guard rail and turning this creek-side stroll into an middle-of-the-road adventure.”

    A bit turgid maybe. But kinda noir, which I like.

    Posted by Aimee Mandala | August 24, 2016, 4:32 pm
  16. I think in order to successfully describe night scenes, besides paying attention to your helpful tips, the person needs to love the nighttime, feel good during it, enjoy it – the sounds, the lack of them, the new smells, the new colors.
    If all the person can think about is to have a good night sleep, they’ll never get to know the night. And the half ass description won’t be genuine.

    I was trying to listen to the night from my open window while I was writing this 🙂 It was nice.

    Posted by Lilit Galatea | August 25, 2016, 4:39 pm
    • It helps if the writer enjoys what she’s writing about.

      However, it’s also possible to write evocatively about something we hate or fear.

      For example, a writer who’s scared of the dark, and hates walking down dark alleyways at night, can write a very effective description for a thriller. 🙂

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:18 am
  17. Great advice Rayne! I never thought about the importance of setting certain scenes at night. It can surely add another dimension to the scene. You can use it to make something more eerie or sinister or even use it in a romantic way with a clear night sky with the moon and falling stars or even the northern lights!

    Posted by aditya thakur | August 29, 2016, 4:36 am
    • Yes. There’s a lot you can do with descriptions, to create the right atmosphere for your scene.

      Here’s a professional trick: describe romantic things in creepy ways, unattractive things in romantic ways, beautiful things in sad ways and so on. Basically, show thing that don’t fit the point-of-view character’s mood, but describe them in a way that conveys that mood.

      This will give the story more depth and avoid cliches.

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:21 am
  18. Night happens to be my favorite time and according to my friends, it’s when I come alive. After reading this, I just realized how strange it was that I haven’t thought of doing much with night scenes other than talking on the phone and possibly a dinner date. That doesn’t exactly make for the most captivating story line. I’ll have to get back to the drawing board. I can probably even use my love for night as inspiration for one of the characters. Does a good novel need a balance between daytime and nighttime scenes or can one be more dominant over the other?

    Posted by Shenae Richards | September 1, 2016, 8:40 pm
    • I’m sure with your love of the night you can create very vivid night scenes.

      Whether daytime or nighttime scenes can be dominant depends on your story.

      I would merely advise not to set every scene at night.

      My other advice is to make sure the night experience in every scene is different. For example, one scene takes place during a mild moonlit night, another during a stormy night on the beach, while a third is a rainy night in a big city.

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:23 am
  19. Rayne, you have truly become an inspiration to my writing. I love reading your posts and they really do get my creative juices flowing.

    Thank you for the great advice

    Posted by ashlee | September 3, 2016, 6:34 am
  20. I remember my first assignment – as a pupil at school, 15-16 years old. One evening a friend and I walked through something like a forest 3-4 km outside the town.
    It was nice but at a certain moment I got scary – we walked under trees and for a while we did not see any light, the moon and the stars were hidden.
    A couple of weeks later I deliberately took the walk alone. This time it was even darker. So … I did not enjoy any of the nature, I was too focused on not stumbling.
    Much later in life I was able to enjoy the sounds of forest at night. The birds and the wind mostly. It really opens my other senses – smells, noise, temperature and toughing.
    And helps me relax.

    Posted by Nikola Yordanov | July 31, 2017, 4:54 am
  21. Going to a graveyard at night seems creepy and exciting at the same time! I should definitely do it! I’ve always written only romantic night scenes but you’re giving me a good idea here.

    Posted by Ralitsa | August 1, 2017, 9:28 am
    • A graveyard for inspiration – why not, if you’re not frightened?

      Alternatively, you can think about what kind of night-time location would suit the story you’re currently working on, and go to that kind of place for research.

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:29 am
  22. Rayne,

    I absolutely the way you describe certain senses and settings. I definitely resonated with your examples you used! This has been a great read for me, because I tend to use very metaphorical descriptive sentences that don’t always land with the readers. Hence, learning these very simple and effective techniques will certainly improve my writing and make it more friendly to others! Thank you for sharing this wonderful advice! I can’t wait to try out your assignments and grow as a writer. Many thanks!

    Posted by Dylan Hunter | August 4, 2017, 8:34 pm
    • Hi Dylan,
      One of the tricks is to keep the descriptions relatively short, but to choose evocative details.
      Readers often skip descriptions, and ignore the metaphors, if the descriptions are long. But if they’re just a sentence or two, here and there, they pay attention.

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:31 am
  23. I am a fan of night scenes, and I really liked the idea of not just mentioning what light there is, but describing it. While I enjoy night scenes in a scary setting, I also really love night scenes in romance books. I find that it makes it more suspenseful and romantic. Loved the post, Rayne!

    Posted by Shelby Dowden | August 7, 2017, 8:57 am
  24. The imagination in these tips is infinite! I haven’t thought of torches but they can come in handy sometimes! A lot of writers emphasize on the moon and the moon only. As we can se, it is not the only thing that can rouse feelings in the reader.

    Posted by Mark Johnson | August 9, 2017, 12:27 pm
    • The moon is great to describe in night scenes, because it looks different every night, depending on the phase, the temperature, the weather.
      But I agree: there are other things besides the moon. And what you choose to describe makes your story unique.

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:33 am
  25. Thank you for the tips, Rayne!

    They’ll certainly help me with my stories. The beautiful thing is that we can use a night scene to setup different sensations like fear, love, despair or erotica.
    I also love when these scenes are saturated with metaphorical sense and describe a threshold between realities or between good and evil.

    Posted by Vesso | August 9, 2017, 2:26 pm
    • Yes, descriptions of the surroundings helps create emotions in the reader, and nighttime settings are great for intense moods.
      I write mostly horror, so many of my night desriptions are subtly creepy and suspenseful. Many of my stories also explore the boundaries between real world and paranormal, between good and evil, and the night time can serve as a threshold.

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:36 am
  26. Hello, Rayne, I love this post cos I personally love night scenes, especially for the thrill and romance but I found that most writers struggle with this. It’s great to know so much can be explored when writing night scenes.

    Posted by Victoria | August 13, 2017, 2:42 pm
    • There’s a lot you can do with night scenes. It’s like a toolbox filled with tools. You, the author, choose which tool you want to use, and how to use it, for the scenes you write. This way, each night scene is unique.

      Posted by Rayne hall | September 2, 2017, 3:37 am


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