I’ve mentioned using the weather to create atmosphere; in fact, to make it like a character. But then everything in a book is a character from the cover on, even the way the words are spaced on the page. For example, if you’re reading late in bed and find the next chapter starts with a solid block of text, you put the book down. If you’re enjoying being with the characters, however, and the next chapter starts with a bit of dialogue, even if you’re tired, you keep reading. Then, looking at my favourite Hornblower and Sharpe, the discussions and dialogue are never pages long but split up with a sentence about a noise, or a change of facial expression, or something recalled; those interruptions not only break the monotony but add to the atmosphere and build tension as much as what is said.
Before all this there is the quality of the paper and the size and spacing of the text. It’s like wine bottles with flat bottoms compared to those with deep indents. Flat bottoms means they’ve gone for a cheap version and the wine is probably ‘less nice’. Good quality paper feels good to handle but tight text is off-putting and makes the book’s characters seem less appealing.
One of the things I like about Dickens is his use of names. When we meet Mr Micawber we are ready for some eccentricity; what could Mrs Togers be but a landlady in a lodging house, or what would Mr Bounderby be but ‘a man made of course material’. The names are like bits of advance notice of what is about to happen.