Setting the Right Tone

Posted: January 16, 2019 in The Writing Process

Years ago (longer ago than I want to admit in such a public forum) in grade school, my classmates and I were given assignments to write articles in the manner of the news, the “who-what-when-where-why-how”. We generally stated the facts although some of us given to florid language would pick a particular verb or noun that was “weighted”, and we got marks off for painting a bias into our “reporting.”

Take the following three sentences, for instance:

The group of people approached the courthouse.

The mob descended on the courthouse.

The protestors gathered in front of the courthouse.

 

They all three state the same facts, some more specific than the other, but some also more charged than others. The first one is pretty neutral, and fairly bland. While it may be vague, it is at least factual–there were people, of whatever affiliation or purpose–who went to the courthouse. The second one is decidedly negative, insinuating that the people aren’t just a group but a mass of people upset with something (the “mob” aspect)who are descending or overwhelming the courthouse. The third could be positive or negative depending on your view of recent “protestors”* exercising their First Amendment rights. The latter two definitely lend their own bent to the situation, and the author’s opinions of the occurrence are as clear as what occurred. Possibly even clearer.

It IS a sad state of affairs that creative writers can take a few lessons from the very “journalists” who were supposed to just report the news without adding their own colors, but it is what it is. Wise folks learn whatever they can from whomever, whether they agree with them 100%** of the time or not. In this case, learn that the entire tone of a piece can be changed with the substitution of the right words. If you’re writing horror, you’re going to pick from a decidedly different list of adjectives than if you are describing a scene in a romance, even if, say, both scenes took place in a castle, or a cave, or an abandoned house. This is even more true for the first-person narration, where the author is telling the story through the character’s head–their feelings, their emotions should color every scene, giving us a sense of not only what is going on but how they feel about it.

Let’s take that idea of an abandoned

“We entered the empty house. Boards creaked when we stepped on them. Our footsteps echoed. We moved into the shadows. We went further into the house.”

“We crept into the abandoned mansion. Boards creaked and squealed beneath every footstep, the oil-slick shadows swallowing the echos. We pressed on, deeper and deeper.”

“We slipped into the neglected chateau, wary of the boards creaking and revealing our presence beneath every step. We slid into the embracing shadows the way we slid into each others’ arms, deeper and deeper.”

 

These sentences aren’t going to win any awards, but which one would you guess belongs in a horror story?

Which in a romance novel?

And which in the first draft revision purge bin?

Sound off below, and let me see your Tone in action!

 

 

*Many of which I would call a “mob” considering their aims were less to make an important point for justice and more for wanton destruction to homes and property owned by people who have nothing to do with whatever the protestors are “protesting”. And, yes, that’s my opinion. I’m a creative writer, not a journalist.

**Anyone who surrounds themselves with people who only agree with each other 100% of the time or shout down/drive out those who do not agree are guilty of that aspect of fascism where any ideas other than those holding the reins are suppressed. It can be as large as global/governments or as small as a group of people who are supposed to be respectful of each others’ opinions. That’s the real reason behind the First Amendment to give everyone a voice in the discussion, and to bring to light unpopular thoughts. Unfortunately, we are slipping away from  any kind of tact or civility in our discourse…

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Comments
  1. Slipping into the chasm of the derelict chateau is probably the way I would go. How have you been?

  2. Greg says:

    Glad you finally posted some new thoughts.

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