In Part 1 Understanding Tone In Fiction, the meaning of tone was defined and how it is important to your fiction. The post made it clear that authors want to work on this quality in their writing which helps to grab readers into the story and make them want to read more of the author’s books. This is a goal that you and I want as we write our novels. This post will cover dissecting tone step by step, and examining problematic areas in tone.
DISSECTING TONE STEP BY STEP
The points listed below define some of the technique used to create and maintain tone in a novel. Consider using these elements in your work.
• Listen to the language
How does the author present the topic? What connotative meaning results from the words chosen? What attitude is created?
• Notice the quality of the language
Are the words abstract or concrete? Abstract words reflect the unimportant. The words “tell” more than they “show.” Concrete words show and are used to stress the importance. Abstract does not create a word picture, but concrete will. Ex: The day was lovely. The day offered a warm breeze and sunshine. Are the words vague or specific. Again, you can picture something specific. Instead of the vague term: dog. Use miniature poodle or wolfhound. These words create an image. “Dog” alone does not. Is the language formal or informal? Formal shows social status, education, or haughtiness while informal includes slang and the language of most readers.
• Study the Sentence Structure
Sentences vary and structure can emphasize the most important word in the sentence. They can begin with a clause, phrase or the subject. Long and short sentences add to the tone. Long sentences tend to be thoughtful, reflective or calming and are more passive. Short sentences grab the reader. They are used in intense conversation, emotional dialogue or introspection, and provide immediacy which adds a spirit to the scene. Word order can be used for emphasis. His beguiling, mesmerizing eyes drew her to him- or – His eyes, beguiling and mesmerizing, drew her to him. This word order adds drama to the description. The first poses emphasis on his eyes while the second tends to emphasize her reaction to his eyes. The last word in a sentence stays with the reader and therefore can bring emphasis to the word. Try to structure sentences allowing the important thought at the end. He died in the heat of battle. Or In the heat of battle, he died.
• Notice the Details
The tone will heighten its effect with the details the author stresses. The description of a room can set a tone. Look at these examples: The cozy, easy chairs nestled in a conversational grouping reflected in the pastoral paintings on the walls – or – The straight-back chairs lined the room like soldiers against walls weighted with animal heads and a rifle display. The details make a difference.
• Notice the imagery
Authors use metaphors, similes, and analogies to create images. The flowerless acre of brambles and broken branches defy the title garden. The garden offered a walk through paradise. Imagery stamps a word picture in the reader’s mind.
Once you have dissected your own work or another novel, study your present work to evaluate what you are doing successfully and what needs work which leads to the next topic.
EXAMINING YOUR NOVEL’S TONE
Now that you’ve gone through the elements of tone, you will want to take a fresh look at your present work and see how you can improve your writing through creating a clear and consistent tone in your novels. Despite authors’ attempts to do quality writing, we have weaknesses and make errors. We learn through critiquing and editing our work. To help you take a new look a your work, follow the list of problematic areas to consider and ways to correct the problem.
• Know Your Writer’s Voice
Tone does not change your writer’s voice. Each novelist develops a quality of expression and use of language that captures fans and draws readers. So maintain your voice while developing the tone of your novel. You can show tone most effectively through the voices of your characters. Notice the difference between these two lines, meaning the same thing: “Put the children to bed.” or “Get those brats out of here.” Each character will keep the tone of the novel while still staying true the author’s way of putting words on paper. In narration, create tone by selecting words, images and sentence structure via the writer’s individual voice to support the desired tone.
• Use Characters To Affirm Tone
Though a novel will set a singular tone, characters will develop the tone in a way that is consistent with their personalities as noted above. While the novel may be romantic or supsenseful, within each character moments of frustration or anger will bring out different attitudes. These attitudes will be expressed in ways realistic to the character and still keep the overall tone. Looking above regarding ways to get rid of the children, here is a wife’s response to both of the commands above. “It is getting late.” or “Don’t be angry, Fred. I’ll take care of it.” The first response shows agreement. The second reflects fear. This shows the mood and yet reflects the wife’s reponse who is mild mannered and/or submissive.
• Use Tension To Enhance Tone
Tension stems from emotion. As mentioned above, characters do not live without emotions, and in real life, we experience the sway of an emotional pendulum, swinging from one emotion to another throughout our lives, but this does not change our personalities. Emotion is an extension of it. All novels have conflicts which creates emotion and thus tension. No matter what genre of novel and what tone is used throughout the story, use the techniques you’ve learned to enhance the tension. These options could be language choice, sentence structure, or imagery as you use the character’s personality to support the appropriate tone.
• Tone Demands Consistency
Establish tone in the first paragraph of your novel. Ex: Jill stared into the dark, a chill coursing through her veins like a death march. Or What did she care if her hips splayed over the edge of the chair? Some men liked Rubenesque women. You have no question what to expect in both novels since the tone has been established. A strong start with snappy dialogue must remain through the book to the end. A thoughtful piece, even with a happy ending, will end with a thought-provoking message, leaving the reader with a deeper meaning yet still enjoying the joyful conclusion of the novel.
• Description And Imagery Create Tone
As you read through your manuscript, your word selection, word order and visual images are expected to convey the overall tone. Reflect the character’s attitude by selecting speech style and word choices fitting characterization as well as keeping the story tone.
Consider a living room described in ways to reflect tone.
1) The room smelled musty, jammed with ancient furniture that had seen a better day.
2) Polished antiques adorned the room echoing memories of past days of grandeur.
3) As she gazed into the room, her grandmother’s favorite rocker nestled beside her polished antique knitting box as if waiting for her grandmother to lift the needles.
4)The ratty rug curled beneath his feet as he peered at the water-spotted paper pealing from the walls and the scared furniture too worn for repair.
Notice that each describes the same room but through the eyes of a different character, and yet the overall tone of loss or remembrance.
• Be Willing To Use The Axe
Creating tone is like any writing technique. If it’s overworked or exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness, it loses its purpose and effect. Avoid preaching your personal attitude on a subject until it loses the quality of fiction and becomes a proclamation of your belief. Even if the attitude or tone is not your own but one you’ve chosen for your story, use the elements of tone with thought. Be consistent, yet don’t hammer the tone into the heads of readers. Swing the axe when you sense you’re over the edge. One image is excellent, but five within the same chapter is overdone. When pushing a theme or attitude feels heavy, be willing to select the best choices and cut back. Let the power of your tone influence readers and not your heavy hand.