The tone in writing is one of the most important characteristics of a piece of writing. Books, poetry, songs, articles, any writing whatsoever; the tone is everything. That being said, there are a lot of ways in which writers can either mess it up or completely forget to set the tone. Below is a guide to setting the tone to come across exactly how you want it to.
Some Things To Note
- Tone is the character or attitude of a text that invokes emotion in the reader
- There are two things you want to ask yourself when reading a text and studying the tone:
How does the text make you feel?
How is the text designed to make you feel?
Things That Create Tone
There are several different elements in writing that create the tone. Here are a few:
How your characters act, interact, and speak all play a large role in how your readers perceive your story. If your characters are speaking cryptically, fidgeting, and the tensions are high, your readers will feel the suspense.
Volume (Dialogue Tags)
How loud people say things is a big indicator of how they mean for it to come across to whomever they’re talking to. It’s the same this with dialogue. While it’s important not to overdo it with the dialogue tags, you must also use them to your advantage. It’s kind of when you’re writing a script and you sometimes feel the need to add a note for the actor to say something a certain way in order for them to portray what you envision. Use specific dialogue tags sparingly, but use them well.
The context of the situation is everything. If your reader doesn’t know what’s going on and your main character is super relaxed all of a sudden when they thought they were in the middle of a very stressful situation, it’s going to give them very weird vibes. Knowing where the character is, how they feel, and having some idea of what’s about to go down is imperative to creating the right tone.
Word choice is the main way you can set the tone in your story. You must be clear, intentional, natural, and consistent with the way you choose how you phrase things in your story. We all have certain associations with specific words and using those associations will bode well for you.
Clear Word Choice…
Be clear before anything else when setting the tone. Portray what you need to in order to create the scene itself and put the reader in the story. Then change what words you’re using in order to make the reader feel a certain way. However, never sacrifice clarity in exchange for the use of a fancy word. If your read doesn’t know what you’re saying, what good does it do anyway?
Intentional Word Choice…
Be intentional when you’re deciding where to switch out words and where you decide to really hit the reader with a huge wave of tone. Don’t just fling words anywhere there’s a gap in the hopes that it will accomplish the same thing as intentionally injecting words where it will pierce the reader’s soul. See what I mean?
Natural Word Choice
While it’s important to choose words that fit the tone, they must flow naturally with the dialogue and descriptions. Don’t just slap your reader in the face with “OMG Becky did you hear what that brat Jessica said about you and your bae? She’s such a vacuous shrew!” because that’s not exactly natural is it?
I have a whole post called Improving Flow In Writing that expands on this quite a bit.
Consistent Word Choice…
Be consistent in your word choice. Don’t use the same words over and over again, but don’t go from calling dogs to “canis lupus familiaris”. Well.. unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Examples Of Tones
Some of you might be a little fuzzy on what I mean by tone in the first place, so here are a few examples of tone:
Etc.. You get the picture.