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What Is the Tone of Your Novel?

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Aug 22, 2012 5:02:30 AM

Tone is something we storytellers hear a great deal about from writing experts and mentors. We are told that setting the proper tone is crucial to holding the reader's attention. The problem that I've experienced with this nugget of information is that it usually doesn't come with the definition of tone as it applies to novels. Let's see if we can shed some light on the topic.

 

An online search using the phrase "What is tone in a novel?" produced a list of sources that provided a fairly consistent definition of the idea. The overwhelming consensus boiled down to this very simple explanation: tone isn't what is said, but how it is said in a novel. For example: The book The Dog of the South by Charles Portis is about a husband trying to track down his wife and her lover. That concept could be delivered in a variety of different ways. It could be a sad exploration of the couple's failed marriage, or it could be a story filled with tension that culminates in a violent confrontation. Portis creates a comedic series of missteps that result in the main character realizing he hadn't been living the life he wanted.

 

The tone of that book came from the narrator's voice. While he never recognized the humor in the story he was telling, his mostly calm acceptance and willing participation in the absurdity around him, gives the book a comedic tone. It's as if the narrator is not in on the joke he is telling.

 

In my view, the reason The Dog of the South is a great story is because the tone is consistent throughout the book. Portis never loses sight of the fact that his main character is the subject of an ongoing joke. That fact dictates how the character interacts with other characters and tells the story of his misadventures.

 

It may seem simplistic to say that tone is how you say something, not what you say, but it's accurate. In her article "Idiosyncratic Tone in the Novel," writer Wendy Voorsanger put it this way:

 

Tone is the emotional color or musical pitch of a novel. It's typically a feeling or atmosphere a writer establishes and maintains through an entire piece of writing. It's not what is being said or done - it's how it's said or done. It's the words on the page: their rhythm, grammar, diction, sound, and sequence.

 

Now that we've established what tone is, I leave you with this question: can you identify the tone of your own novel?

 

-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

 

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