Posted by on February 21, 2014

Happy Sad Mask GirlSometimes we follow all the advice but there still seems to be something missing in our story. More often than not, the mood of our story is off or unclear. We have failed to set an appropriate mood for our readers. You also may have heard it referred to as tone.

What is tone?

Tone is the mood, style, voice or inflection that the writer gives a piece of writing.  Tone reflects the author’s attitude toward his subject. For example, that tone or voice can be serious, amused, scientific, intimate, or authoritative.  Tone is the personality of the writer as perceived through the text. The tone can shape the story and influence its meaning.

Tone is revealed in our writing through the use of imagery, through the details, by the words we choose and the manner in which we arrange those words into sentences. While tone can echo a writer’s attitude it also must be appropriate for the subject matter. For your family history story to be strong, your tone must be consistent throughout your writing.

If you capture the right mood your reader will enjoy your family history story through to the end.   Sometimes we can miss the mark with tone. If our mood is dry the reader abandons us, if the mood is angry and accusatory, the reader will become uncomfortable and desert the story. The wrong tone can derail the best of stories.

For example, if you’re writing about your grandfather and you have some issues with his choices in life you may come off as angry. The reader will sense this and become uncomfortable which may result in him abandoning the story.

Identifying Tone

Understand the tone of your family history story by reading your work aloud or have someone read it too you. You’ll hear right away if the tone has taken a wrong turn, or if you’ve used the right voice to tell this story. Many times the right tone will not start to emerge until 2nd, 3rd and 4th drafts so don’t panic if you haven’t found the early on in the writing process. When you have the opportunity to go deeper into your story, your voice for the story will emerge. Once you found the mood you want to convey, you must be ever so diligent to remain consistent with it.

If you want to capture a particular mood, read works by authors whose tone you would like to mimic.

Giving your writing some time and space is sometimes required to capture the right tone. Letting some time past before writing a story in order to present it in a more subjective approach and with empathy can be necessary to finding the voice for your story.

Your first sentence should set the mood of your story. Are you having trouble opening your story with the right tone? Find a single sentence in your story that you believe represents the tone, now move it to the beginning of your story.

Alternatively, you can print out a single sentence or paragraph that you feel captures the mood you wish to achieve, hang it near your computer and keep it in front of you as you write.  Let it guide you in keeping this tone consistent throughout your writing.

Of course, different subjects will require different tones, but it’s important to remain consistent throughout a single piece of writing. If you’re writing about alcoholism or incest in your family history it most likely will require a different tone then writing about your grandparent’s love story. Different genres have different tones, mystery, thrillers, and suspense, romance all suggest tone simply by their name.

Off topic tangents can derail tone, as can putting too much emphasis on your theme. Take your cue for tone from the conflict in your story. It should dictate the mood. Tone is also expressed through being specific in your imagery and through the characterization of your ancestors.

Tone can be a very difficult concept to nail down for many writers. It’s one of those vague elements of writing that we have trouble comprehending. Your tone develops as part of the writing process, it will reveal itself in good time, but it won’t magically appear.  It comes through experience, time, revisions and awareness. Once you tune in and become more attentive to the unique sound of your writing voice, and the mood you wish it to convey, you will begin find the right tone for your family history story.

 

Posted in: Shaping a Story