Writing a Consistent Tone

Writing fiction can be like a landmine-infested field—so many things to avoid. Character, plot and tension may head the list of things you must get right, but what about maintaining a consistent tone?

Writing Tip for Today: Let’s discuss ways to keep your tone consistent in fiction writing:

Know Thy Tones

What do I mean by tone? Tone in fiction is the attitude of the narrator or viewpoint character toward story events and other characters. Tone may be humorous, suspenseful, romantic, poetic—but should reflect both the way you as writer relate to your readers as well as reflect the character’s attitudes.

Does your character crack jokes when anxious or is your character more combative? Does the character take things seriously or is the story more comical? All these things affect your tone. The most important idea is to settle on one and stay consistent. A tone that bounces from humor to serious and back again can confuse readers.

Know Thy Character

Set a novel or story’s tone by deeply and fully understanding your main character. How does this person see the world? What are his/her ambitions? How are this character’s attitudes colored by relationships, past failures and deep desires?

By understanding your character in deep ways, your story’s tone should set itself. If you write a character who fully inhabits your story, that character will dictate whether you write the story light and breezy, taut and suspenseful or poetic and literary.

As you set your character in action, think about how that character will act and react in a variety of situations. Maybe he/she was the class clown or the strong silent one. Some people are introverts, extroverts or a combination. Do some valuable background research on your character and then write in a tone that helps your readers engage with that character.

Your story’s tone is all about your readers.

Know Thy Audience

Setting the tone of a story is really all about your readers. You hope to keep them engaged by maintaining a tone which matches both your genre and your character. You can successfully insert a humorous tone into a suspenseful story by being consistent.

If you throw in a passage or scene outside the tone you’ve set—say the story unfolds in serious prose, then suddenly adds a poetic bit or a joke, readers may be jolted out of your story. I learned this first-hand when one of my characters suddenly waxed poetic. The bit stood out and not in a good way. If you want to write in a poetic, literary way, try not to upset readers with a sudden shift.

While we’re talking about tone, a word about contractions. I once thought I should never use contractions so my writing would sound more learned or prettier. I learned that writing in formal language with no contractions only makes me sound affected. Use contractions! Your story’s tone will more closely reflect your readers and give them a reason to read on.

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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