Wednesday, November 12, 2008

“D.A.D.” and “M.O.M.”: Memorable Guides To Improve ALL Forms of Writing

Truly memorable fiction usually includes description, action, and dialogue (what I call the D.A.D. technique of creating vivid word pictures). Remember D.A.D. as a kind of checklist for your writing--even if you have only one character (the D for Dialogue could translate to a person talking to him/herself). Examine your favorite stories and novels—the ones that created virtual movies that still play in your mind when you recall them—and you’ll see the important role of D.A.D.

As for nonfiction, vivid writing has as much importance as it does in fiction, and the D.A.D. technique will liven up essays, reports, and articles, too. You may be saying to yourself, “Sure, I understand how I can use description and action in creative nonfiction…but dialogue?” Simply remember to include words “spoken” by others—QUOTATIONS—to illustrate your points. And when revising your nonfiction and checking for the D.A.D. elements, look for quotation marks to ensure that you’ve painted a vivid nonfiction word picture. Using my D.A.D. technique in everything you write will immediately improve your written works, whether you write fiction, poetry, or nonfiction.

Now, along with D.A.D. comes M.O.M. (I don't discriminate when I make up mnemonic devices!): The M.O.M. technique will enable you to revise and edit your work for maximum impact by focusing on Mood, Order, and Matter. Let me explain. Mood refers to the tone of a piece of writing. Your word choices affect how your reader perceives the images or imaginary world you’ve created. How you choose your D.A.D. elements will determine the mood of your work, and you may have to alter the descriptions, actions, and/or dialogues to fit the mood you hope to convey. For example, to set a mysterious mood, you might describe a garden as “shrouded in mist”; and a man’s action as “shifting his eyes back and forth as he tiptoed through the garden”; and that man’s dialogue lines might read: “Where on earth could he have hidden?” Similarly, those basic elements would change for a scary story. For instance, the garden might feature a description of “a hedge of twisted junipers, contorted like writhing, green monsters;” and you might show the man’s actions as: “he sweated profusely as he darted between rows of thorny stems and spider-like tendrils”; and his dialogue lines might say: “This can’t be real—heaven help me, it can’t!” One word alone can alter a piece’s mood. A boy who "trudges," rather than "walks" shows us his unhappy mood; whereas a boy who "skips," rather than "moves," shows us a childish joy. Experiment with verbs that can change the mood of a sentence, not to mention the image of your character. Thus, Mood, the first element of the M.O.M. technique, both enriches and depends upon D.A.D.

In nonfiction, think of Mood as the tone you set using either formal or informal words. In an essay written to persuade the reader of your personal opinion about something, it is sometimes appropriate to “talk” directly to the reader and use contractions (like “it’s” instead of “it is”), rather than very formal wording. In a report of information, in which you present only facts, and no opinion, the Mood, or tone, must remain “objective,” like a factual newspaper article. Order refers to the order in which you supply information to the reader. If your story, for instance, grows from a specific setting—such as a creepy old mansion—and you want to introduce the characters slowly, as they enter the mansion, building the reader’s suspense, then you must first rely most heavily on the element of Description. You might decide to change that order if you prefer to speed up the plot and engage your reader in action from the first line, rather than risk boring him with a lengthy description of the mansion. The order in which you present your story’s D.A.D. elements will determine how you affect your reader—whether you offer subtle hints about the plot in advance, perhaps even revealing the end scene at the start, and then keeping the reader guessing all along about how that ending will occur; or you might supply intriguing tidbits of description or deceptive dialogue to keep the reader wondering about the character’s true personality. Notice the order of the story elements when you read the works of other writers. Experiment with changing the order of elements as you polish your own stories, poems, and—yes—your nonfiction reports and essays. In nonfiction, the order of your points, and your summation of those points in the end, determines whether your reader comes away from your piece feeling well-informed or confused, convinced or bored. Matter, the final element of M.O.M., means two things: first, I mean “matter” as the “substance” or “stuff” you wrote about; and second, I mean “matter” as “having a definite purpose.” Thus, the Matter consists of all those details that absolutely must appear on the page in order for the reader to understand the meaning of the entire piece. If you add unnecessary artistic details that don’t matter to the reader’s understanding, then you decrease the power of the Matter and confuse the reader. Deciding which matter matters is what we do in the final editing stage of our writing process, in which we delete superfluous words that slow down, or distract from, the work’s purpose. The Matter, Order, and Mood all influence each other in your writing.

Remind yourself to heed D.A.D. and M.O.M. whenever you write, and you will progress as a writer—I guarantee it. (You will also learn to appreciate, as a reader, the effective use of these techniques by your favorite authors.) Yes, embrace your “parental guides,” D.A.D., who helps you grow as a writer, and M.O.M., who helps you grow stronger through revision and editing. Thus, remembering D.A.D. and M.O.M. while writing will create writings worth remembering!