[Also check out the other posts in this series: Talking Voice – Part 1: Authorial Voice; Talking Voice – Part 3: Character & Stylistic Voices; Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction]
My first blog on natural voice didn’t much explore the often necessary idea of altering voice in order to fit the needs of the writing task. Today I want to briefly cover one possibility for alteration: tone.
As Julie Wildhaber said in her article on voice over at Grammar Girl’s indispensable website, tone is “a subset of voice. If voice is the personality of a story, then tone is the mood.”
I agree, and I agree with her that a good writer can change that personality. The key – as with voice in a larger sense – is maintaining awareness, consistency, and commitment.
One of the easiest ways to change the personality is to change the tone. If voice is ice cream, tone is a part of what makes the ice cream’s flavor. Tone is the mood of a piece of writing. Tone creates an emotional backdrop, helping a reader know whether to be anxious, happy, scared, ready for romance, or ready for a fight between a dozen master ninjas.
Tone can manifest itself in different ways. One of those is tempo. Shorter sentences and the strategic use of fragments create an urgent tone. Word choice can also change tone. The family of adjectives you pull from for a tender, sensual love scene will be different from the set you use when one lover later decides to chop the other into quivering packets of bloody meat with a 16-inch, saw-toothed hunting knife. (Though ‘quivering’ could be used in both instances! Words are cool that way sometimes.)
So romantic books and scenes might have more warmth, but at the same time are very intense. Thrillers are also intense, but it’s more about tempo; there are more actions packed into fewer words.
Decide before you begin a scene – or even a whole book – what tone you want to have in general, then stick to that as much as possible. If you do, you’ll find that revisions go much quicker, and aspects of your writing like character development will also be more consistent.
What other ways do you try to create the right tone in your writing? Let me know in the comments!
Coming Soon: Talking Voice – Part 3: Character & Stylistic Voices; Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction