Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tone Deaf

There are certain terms that come up consistently when researching the craft of writing, such as voice, style, mood, and pacing. Maybe not so often we hear the subject of ‘tone’ mentioned. All of these terms can mean very similar things but in a Writer’s Digest article by Adair Lara, tone means the author’s attitude toward his subject.

She explains if you were a photographer, tone would be the way you use lighting, whether from the side to create a shadow effect or above to highlight the scare factor. In a movie, tone is created with the use of music. You know when something terrible is about to happen because the background music becomes especially creepy.

But writers cannot rely on lights or music; instead we have conflict, imagery, and surprise. The way we use them and the word choices we make are all part of the story tone. Just like the way someone responds to the tone of our voice, a reader will respond to the tone of our story. If a subject makes us angry or bores us into a coma, it will be reflected in the tone of our writing and the reader will know it.

Key Points to remember:
Avoid being Predictable (no cliches or stereotypes!)
Be Consistent from Start to Finish (don't start out a thriller and switch to a romance in the middle)
Let Tension Sustain Tone (make sure there is enough conflict to keep a reader's interest)
Convey Tone and Voice through Details and Descriptions (if your mc is an angry teenager chances are she won't spend a few pages describing a field of flowers.)
Learn to Recognize your Issues (don't go off on rants that have nothing to do with your story or are not consistent with how your character feels.)

If you still don’t understand just think of the very different tones in say…Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and The Vampire Diaries by L.J Smith. Both are about teenage vampires and yet they are completely different in tone.

There are so many factors to consider when creating your story. Tone is one of the most important. And if you’re tone deaf…well, it worked out for Beethoven.

Note: Adair Lara is the author of Naked, Drunk, and Writing. I haven’t read it but the title alone made me want to listen to her advice immediately.


  1. I think with the new e-book technology I should be able to rely on lights and music to enhance the tone of my novel. Just think, a reader hits a certain page and the scary music starts to play while the lights on the Nook start to dim or flash wildly. Could be really cool. Instead of me "showing" with the writing, the Kindle could just echo a duh, duh DUH! before the big dramatic scene.

    Also, that L.J. Smith needs to change her name.

  2. So true!!! Amazing what kind of images we create using just our talent with words.

  3. This is a really good point, and little mentioned. The last especially about recognizing your problems is a good one - that's been my major focus lately, making sure I have a consistency.

  4. Love this. I know from my own experience that if you haven't been working on a project for a while, it's easy to lose the tone of it, adn the voice. You have to constantly be in a specific frame of mind as to not mislead the reader. And like you said, keeping to genre is muy importante :o)


It helps to know I'm not just talking to myself.