By Russel D McLean
I’m not sure how happy I am talking about this weeks subject.
I really don’t know what to say about it. I don’t have much in the way of practical advice and in a sense, I think tone is often a matter of instinct and something you can only see as part of a far larger picture.
Tone is a funny thing. It’s one of those almost instinctual tools in a writer’s box. But despite it seemed like a vague, woolly-thinking kind of idea, its an essential thing to have.
Without having control of your tone, you’re screwed.
But what is tone?
And how can your control it?
Tone is what conveys the mood of your work. Tone is omnipresent in your writing. Tone comes from your word choice, your sentence structure, your point of view. It is the result of all those tiny little choices you make by writing.
Put one thing wrong and tone can go out of the window.
Tone is of course the great problem of the internet generation. We communicate by text almost all the time these days. I have friends whom I know more by their tone in emails than I do by their tone in conversations** And it’s amazing how many times tone can be misinterpreted. Sometimes you just accept that a person has a certain tone, but if you don’t know them then you cannot forgive them seeming rude because you don’t know that they aren’t. It’s the frightening thing about reading a text – all we have to go on are the words in front of us. And if they are mis-used, then often the tone can be misinterpreted and the intent of a communication ruined.
Tone is reliant on being in control of everything else you are doing in a piece of work. Tone comes at the end. tone is the result of all your hard work. My fellow DSDers have said that tone is attitude, that tone is atmosphere, that tone is voice and so much more. It is indeed all of these. And more.
If your tone is wrong, you fix it by working at the meta-level, by fixing some smaller, more intricate process such as your word choice, your structure, your point of view, whatever. All of these other things working in unison are what produce tone. Inconsistencies in tone come from elements of your work not working in harmony, like gears of the wrong size grinding together. On their own these elements may be brilliant, but together they produce something atonal and unsettling.
In the end, what I’m saying is that tone is not something you look at initially. Tone is something you allow to emerge from your work. Writing is like putting together a jigsaw in some ways. You are working with all these disparate and apparently unconnected pieces but when you find the right way to put them together, you can produce something quite unexpected and often entirely beautiful.
*You may groan, but I worked for ages to find a pun title for this entry…
**Not because we’re shut ins but often because we live in different countries. As Tony Hancock said when he took up the Ham Radio, “I’ve got friends all over the world. All over the world! None in this country, but all over the world…”