Tone & Emotion

Last week I’d intended on rushing enthusiastically into the second half of my edits, and then I realized, after staring at the same section for way too long, that this just wasn’t gonna happen.  My brain, apparently, didn’t want to be an editor; it wanted a different kind of stimulation.  So despite my intentions, I took a week-ish break from actively editing the story and just thought about some things.

I kind of feel like I need to do this at least for every 50K words or so that I go through because that’s a lot to focus on continuously when you’re making changes beyond line edits.  Stepping back every so often to see the big picture helps to keep things in perspective.

So as I was looking back at the changes I’d made so far, I noticed something about the tone I’ve been using: at the beginning I tried to keep things very light and whimsical, but then by the halfway point it’d become considerably more matter-of-fact and blunt.  (And I think I didn’t notice this until now because it happened so gradually.)  Suddenly things are really serious–a fact which has made it increasingly more difficult for me to edit and rewrite certain areas.

Tone & Emotion

I don’t really like to write serious stuff; deep down I prefer to be silly, to be honest, so if I’m required to write something serious it takes more effort than writing something that is more lighthearted.  Emotionally, it takes a toll on me because I strongly empathize with everything I put my characters through.  (I imagine this isn’t too uncommon with writers, though.  Especially women.  I was reading one author’s blog one day and she talked a bit about how sometimes she needs a break from writing from a certain character’s perspective; she finds it depressing, just due to the nature of the character.  So she’s now experimenting more with changing POVs.)

I wasn’t sure why this happened at first, the change in tone, but then I thought more about it and realized it’s actually a reflection of what’s happening in the story, of what the protagonist is going through: the story’s tone matches the reshaping of her worldview.  For some reason I was kind of disturbed by this realization, actually.  I mean, do I want to have her views influenced, and in what way?  (I’m sounding like an overprotective mother or something now.)  This can’t really be helped, of course, ’cause people’s views are influenced all the time when they step beyond what they know, but I can control how the protagonist reacts to those influences.

In any case, this is really making me consider my ending again to ensure it gives off the right message for the established story and character progression.  I recall fellow blogger and writer Mark Andrew Edwards musing about something similar not long ago, on consciously thinking about the messages being communicated in one’s story.  (I don’t necessarily think a story’s ending has to be uplifting and entirely likable, but it should be intentional–or rather unexpected yet inevitable, as they say.)

Ultimately, this project has not just been a huge learning experience but also a meditative one.  Writing stories isn’t just about putting words on the page and getting ideas across to readers; it’s also about engaging them–mentally and, even, emotionally.  Personally I feel I get more out of storytelling experiences when they accomplish all of these things, and sometimes I feel gypped when they don’t.  Though, it really depends on the kind of story, as well.  For most adult literature, however, those are my expectations, so I hope to meet them with this project in the end.

Do you find it easier to write in certain kinds of tones more than others?

If so, which ones, and why?


12 thoughts on “Tone & Emotion

  1. Hi Tiyana,

    You’re quest to maintain a consistent tone throughout a piece is one I am familiar with. It is such a drag to find in the reading that you’ve strayed from the path and must edit more than you’d like in order to fix things.

    The reward for staying focused is less editing, but damn, it can be trying for mere mortals.




    • Hey, Doug.

      I should clarify that I don’t really feel that I’ve strayed. It’s just the manner in which I’ve been telling the story has evolved in a way I didn’t expect it to. It’s not something I want to change, though, but it does have me thinking about what kind of note I want to end the story on: upbeat, serious or something in between?

      I think I’d already made up my mind before, but the execution could be a lot better. In any case, it’s just one of many things I’ve still got left to spiff up before I can say, “Yay! I’m done writing my novel!”


  2. Awesome post.

    Funny thing is, I’m a big goofball in person.

    But when it comes to writing, I’m really good at writing with a more serious and intense tone.

    But really, does the tone have to be consistent? I guess it depends on POV you’re using. For example, if 1st person, then tone NEEDS to change (unless you’re writing a very boring book, which I’m sure you are most certainly NOT).

    3rd Person Limited/Episodic is my favorite POV to write in, although it takes a little juggling. Here, I get the luxury of writing from one character’s point of view at a time, yet still change perspectives. I’ll often use #### to designate a shift. This is best for big stories with many characters. A lot of sci-fi/fantasy use this POV.

    So maybe as your characters change, as the plot thickens and the stakes become higher, your emotion/tone needs to change as well.


    • “But really, does the tone have to be consistent?”

      I guess that’s the real question, huh?

      I think, all along, I kind of unconsciously assumed tone stayed the same throughout fictional novels, but maybe this doesn’t have to be the case. Maybe, like you said, this is dependent upon characters changing.

      I’m having a hard time thinking of examples where it doesn’t stay the same, though, just off the top of my head (well-known examples, anyway). Usually when an author introduces a kind of tone–gritty, comical, whatever–it’s pretty much maintained throughout the entire story.


  3. I haven’t quite worked out the question of tone at a novel-length level, yet. It’s easier to keep it consistent on novelette-and-shorter length works, probably.

    Largely, though, tone isn’t something I’ve thought a lot about except in a macro or theoretical sense. It mostly ends up as an element of my style or voice. So I might think about whether I want the story to be dark or light-hearted, serious or funny or whatever. And then I just let it happen.


    • Yeah, it does seem closely connected to style and voice. Like those other elements, I wonder if it’s mostly just something that happens on its own more often than not. It’s not something I tend to think about much when I’m writing.


  4. My tone seems to have a natural bent toward balance. It moves like a tide, from fun frivolity to lyric melancholy and back. I think it’s partly instinctual, partly intentional. I like variety, and would have difficultly maintaining a single mood throughout a whole novel, whether that mood be light or dark; moreover, light seems lighter and dark feels darker when each has the other for contrast.
    And, as mentioned, there’s the matter of following the POV character’s feelings. As their lives are made up of ups and downs, then so, too, must the narration be. …Or perhaps there’s no actual “must” about it. But it is my preference.


    • Variety between scenes and chapters is good, I think. Necessary, really. But I don’t mean to confuse mood with tone, as they seem like two different things. I think of tone as the underlying attitude of the storyteller towards whatever’s happening in the story–sardonic, flippant, matter-of-fact, etc.–rather than any feelings one gets from reading a scene/chapter/whatever segment.

      …if that makes sense.


  5. For me, every story has it’s own tone, and every character does too. Some are light, while some are heavy. I’m not sure which are easier to write. The hard part for me is finding the tone that fits the story best.


    • That’s another thing: writing from multiple viewpoints; you adapt various voices for each. It would seem each voice comes with its own inherent tone, so having more than one voice would make it difficult to keep just one tone.

      I hadn’t even thought about that before, just the one character’s viewpoint. I have three other main POVs and they each offer something different, though I use them way less than the protagonist’s.

      Yeah…it was easier just to not think about tone before, lol.


  6. Hey Tiyana,
    Thanks for the link. Obviously, I get where you’re coming from. I think you’re doing the right thing, taking a break and recharging between editing sessions. It can get heavy.
    I tend to write serious ‘toned’ pieces but I think the suggestion of varying the tone from chapter to chapter is worth considering. I’m trying to add more humor in my next draft of Mageborn Mechanic.
    Whatever you do though, I suggest staying true to your story. If there’s some heavy stuff, then let it affect the protagonist’s realistically. Take breaks when you need to, keep going and good luck.


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