There is another member of our 100 Week Club: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/967458.html
and a new topic: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/968050.html
I also brought you a special treat - one of the most iconic members of the 100 Club, and definitely a bit of a legend in Idol circles.
She is one of those people who I have seen grow as a writer over the years. Which has been awesome, but even better, I've been able to see her life transform. That's one of my favorite things, ever. (and she is one of them as well)
Welcome to your Mentor for this week - the one and only gratefuladdict!
Hello, Idolers!! Thanks for having me this week. Let's talk about setting the mood!
The ability to create and sustain mood and tone is integral to great writing. This encompasses everything from the chill that permeates a horror story to the impish decadence of pillow talk, from the impassioned persuasive essay to the upbeat, friendly and professional tone of corporate email. It's a skill that draws your reader in as you build your narrative.
So, how do we do that?
For me, the biggest tool is rhythm. When I want to up the stress level in a piece - for suspense, hysteria, etc. - I create disjointed sentences that don't flow well. I'll do several short, staccato sentences in a row, and occasionally throw in a long, run-on sentence, so your reading pace starts to raise your blood pressure a bit.
If you want to see how a master does that, read The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. If your heart isn't racing by the end, you have nerves of steel!
You can apply that same technique to create other moods. If you're going for surreal disjointed dream state (my personal guilty pleasure), you can write long, stream-of-conscious sentences that observe more than they judge or act. If you're making an argument about human rights or the culinary merit of sweet potato fries, start slow and measured, then build up to a crescendo of impassioned personal statements.
The key is to read it aloud, or have a friend read it to you. Make sure their voice changes where it should. Make sure they speed up or slow down in sync with the piece. If they don't, you might want to look at your sentence flow again. Shift things until your writing evokes that mood from them.
Another big piece is word choice.
If you are writing that a woman is good-looking, for example, there are a lot of words you could choose from. Is she beautiful, pretty, gorgeous, good-looking, handsome?
Take a step back and think about connotation, rather than just the denotation (literal meaning) of the word. For example, when a woman is described as "handsome," most of us tend to imagine someone whose features or dress are not particularly delicate or feminine. I imagine this woman to be someone who sees wardrobe as serviceable, but is neat and well groomed.
Conversely, if you describe her as "beautiful," I get something really different.* I imagine someone with striking feminine features - probably long hair, big eyes, and a curvy shape. I also infer something about the speaker's perspective - calling someone beautiful could suggest that person has "stars in the eyes" and is awed by her beauty.
And it's not only the connotation to consider here. Say your choices aloud, alone and embedded in a sentence, and see how the words feel in your mouth. They become part of that rhythm as well.
One last thought to consider! Don't underestimate the role that empathy plays in creating strong moods in your writing. If you're writing a personal essay, you might be doing this without realizing it! If you're writing fiction, it takes a bit more work. But if you can immerse yourself emotionally in the moment you are describing, a lot of that mood will come through naturally.
That's enough out of me! How do YOU create mood and tone in your pieces? Are there certain voices or rhythms that feel natural or more intimidating?
After ten seasons of Idol, have you mastered the ominous "hippie about to be kicked" tone?
*Disclaimer: Bear in mind that different cultures and subcultures can have very different connotations for words! It helps to have others read your draft and let you know if any of your word choices feel off to them.