I have always believed that tone is the most influential literary element. It is because of tone that we are sucked into a story. Tone makes a promise of what type of story to expect. It prepares your readers for a comedy, a tragedy, horror or the gothic. Tone carries on in your memory long after the book is finished. Tone is the only literary element that can be used seamlessly, on every single page in every single paragraph without boring the reader. And in my opinion, it is the one thing that can make or break an otherwise wonderful story.
Finally, I have found a like minded individual who can sum up this feeling better than me. Maya Angelou said:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Though she wrote this in reference to the way we live our lives, I see no reason it should not be true of our writing as well.
Tone conveys a sense of atmosphere in your writing. It creates a depth of reality. Any reader of Edgar Allen Poe can immediately recall the atmosphere of gothic gloom and mystery unique to his work. I can’t recall the events of A Tell-Tale Heart, but I know how it made my skin crawl. In fantasy worlds writers use tone to emphasize the way their world feels. Just think of Harry Potter. With a sense of wonder and discovery millions of readers were so captivated by this world that it became a literary phenomena.
A great writer uses tone to it’s utmost possibilities. When we are watching a movie or reading a book tone is what entrances us. It keeps us mesmerized with our expectations for what will come. If the tone is consistent, the suspension of disbelief is continued seamlessly throughout the experience.
How to Create a Tone that will Mesmerize your Audience:
- Before writing a story, I consider the effect I want this story to have on my readers. I try to narrow it down to a short phrase or even a single word.
- Next, I brainstorm a list of all the words, objects, actions, events, images or places that can convey that feeling. I usually put this in an excel spreadsheet for easy access.
- To emphasize the tone I want I go to a thesaurus and enter any of the adverbs or adjectives I had started with. I continue to add these new words into my spreadsheet.
- Begin writing, making sure to use these items from your spreadsheet. This will help to ensure that the tone stays consistent throughout the story.
- Any time you are writing and you feel like a scene just isn’t having the impact you hoped for, return to this list. What items can you include to convey the tone? Rewrite it using more of these words and see if that helps.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to change the tone as it suits the needs for a certain scene. Create a miniature spreadsheet for the purpose of a certain scene in your story. The overall tone of a novel sould be consistent so readers maintain the sense of immersion as they read, but certain scenes may require a different feeling. This same process can be repeated even for characters. Characters, like people have their own aura about them and will impact the atmosphere of your writing. Unique characters will have a very distinct aura about them.
Master Tip: I have even made a pinterest board devoted to the sense I want to convey in my writing. I have also made playlists to listen to when writing. These images and melodies will trickle into your writing subconscious and help you to live inside your story as you are writing.
If you doubt the ability of tone to transform your ideas consider the difference between Lord Byron and Joseph Conrad’s take on loneliness.
Although this process does take time, I find it is a great way to get to know your goal with this story. As you continue to develop your list you will feel increasingly immersed in the style you are striving for. Like a method actor, you may feel like you are living inside your imaginary world.
Try rewriting a scene using a more distinct eye for tone. How does it change your story? Maybe even change a scene’s tone completely to get a sense of the effect. I’d love to hear your experience with tone in your writing so please, comment your findings below.