More on Tone

A reader has asked to hear more about tone in the novel. What exactly does tone mean and how does it differ from voice?
Writing Tip for Today: Tone is the overall emotion the novel evokes: serious, dramatic, existential, magical, romantic, funny. Voice is that unique quality or turn of phrase that identifies the character or author without necessarily naming either.
  • Keep It Even. The biggest thing to remember is that unless you have a lot of skill (I’m always putting in this disclaimer–inevitably a student will name an exception), try not to mix the overall tone. In other words, don’t present gut wrenching sadness, then suddenly switch to a light or humorous tone. It’s tasteless to poke fun when the reader is still weeping.
  • Sift for Tone. Most writers change over the course of writing a novel. You grow and mature and you’re not the same person you were when you began. That’s one reason why it makes sense to read your entire manuscript, sifting for tone. Are their spots that reflected your mood du jour? Is that mood different in feel from the rest of the novel?
  • Find Your Voice. Think of voice as a work in progress. Most authors develop their unique cadence, turn of phrase or other identifying tags over a long period of practice, missteps and the occasional brilliant passage. You wouldn’t (probably) mistake Joan Didion for Anne Lamott or confuse David Sedaris for John Irving.
  • Become the Brand. When an author’s voice becomes truly his own, it’s common for the author herself to become the brand. At first most identify themselves through their genre: say, historical fiction. At some point, being pigeonholed into that genre becomes typecasting, and authors use creative ways to get around their assigned types of books. That’s why readers will buy any book, however brilliant or terrible, by that author. His or her name has become the brand.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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