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How Tone And Voice Changes Everything (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
Ok, so this could be a little rambling because I'm struggling to bring together so many things and express it in simple terms. I'm always going on about tone, voice and style and often mention 'something isn't quite right' about my work. That hasn't completely been eradicated and perhaps will never be completely eradicated.

Sometimes you have to recognise when a sentence or a paragraph represent exactly what you're trying to say, and sometimes you'll have to fight to keep it the way you intended. But, those critiquing it are in fact right in the context of the whole. So, the solution isn't to change the sentence, it's to frame it as you want it seen. This is tone, style and voice. A sentence may hang there and appear to be something it isn't. It lacks the resonance you want. Here's an example:

Spurs rattled with each step taken, sand swallowing footprints in a sleepless breeze.

By itself, that sentence comes across as simply poetic licence. I read it several times myself and agreed many times with people who pointed it out as 'too much'. For some reason though, I loathed to change it. It was what I wanted to say. The problem is, those reading The Sixth Chamber were not getting primed in the way I needed them to be. I hadn't lead up to that sentence with the right tone, therefore making it appear as if it was poetic for the sake of it. That wasn't the intention though, which is why I kept going back to the beginning of the piece and rewriting. What I lacked was the 'primer', the 'tone setter'. I'm not there completely but I've finally set the tone correctly with the first two paragraphs:

Yarrod wasn’t certain where or when he began—only that he endured. Pain gave him some comfort, some substance. He hungered and thirsted, suffered and weakened, like any other man. There the similarity ended. No womb birthed him and no grave waited. Or so it seemed. He watched the world spin, and borrowed what time he could to remind himself he was no ghost.

In his mind, an itch. Often, he longed to scratch it with a bullet. Every aspect, from the veneer to the hollow within craved forgiveness, yearned a purifying light, but the damnation walking beside him, grinned a lipless grin. In these moments, he felt wretched. Less a saviour and more a coward, yet the imperative driving him triumphed every time. A tracker, a hunter, a killer is all he was and would ever be.


It's dark and leaning on the horror much more heavily. I'd made the mistake of leaning on the fantasy, which is why the line was being read poetically. The much darker and grimmer tone pulls at the words 'rattled', 'swallowing' and 'sleepless' in a different way. It's a metaphor. I chose the desert because it's associated with time and the barrenness associated with an empty existence. It was the perfect setting to begin Yarrod on his final reset. 'Swallowing' is referring not only to his footprints but the fact his passing is forgotten by himself and everyone. He does not matter. 'Sleepless' is referring to the endless life he's leading as well as the constant wind. To walk a mile in someone's shoes ('each step taken') + the erasure of his existence every cycle (sand swallowing footprints) + his never ending life (sleepless breeze).

I think, now I've set the tone right, many people will get to that line and take from it a far darker image, which is what was intended.
 
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Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Spurs rattled with each step taken, sand swallowing footprints in a sleepless breeze.

Perhaps it comes across as "too much" because the sentence is trying to do too much for its 13 words? There are three different images in the sentence, with two of them creating a mixed metaphor (sand 'swallowing' and a 'sleepless breeze'). You also mix past tense and present tense (rattled; swallowing). That creates a bit of a garbled voice.

I'm loathe to rewrite other's work, but if I found this sentence in my own work during an edit I'd probably end up with something like this:

Spurs rattled with each step, as sand, driven by a hungry breeze, swallowed every footprint.

Working too hard to create a tone, or to use a specific voice, can result in writing so florid that the author risks getting his/her poetic license revoked. Good luck with your book!
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Ok, so this could be a little rambling because I'm struggling to bring together so many things and express it in simple terms. I'm always going on about tone, voice and style and often

It's dark and leaning on the horror much more heavily. I'd made the mistake of leaning on the fantasy, which is why the line was being read poetically. The much darker and grimmer tone pulls at the words 'rattled', 'swallowing' and 'sleepless' in a different way. It's a metaphor. I chose the desert because it's associated with time and the barrenness associated with an empty existence. It was the perfect setting to begin Yarrod on his final reset. 'Swallowing' is referring not only to his footprints but the fact his passing is forgotten by himself and everyone. He does not matter. 'Sleepless' is referring to the endless life he's leading as well as the constant wind. To walk a mile in someone's shoes ('each step taken') + the erasure of his existence every cycle (sand swallowing footprints) + his never ending life (sleepless breeze).
When you feel the need to explain things like this to a reader, you've already blown it. Few readers are interested in examining prospective symbolism in a sentence like that. They're expecting you to tell them what's happening. In war gaming, we call what you're doing "analysis paralysis". I might spend this much effort constructing one sentence in a novel, or possibly none at all. Once in a rare while it's important to get a sentence REALLY RIGHT. Everyone once in a while it's important to get a paragraph (or few) to paint a picture. You want dialogue (especially internal) to reveal character and stay in character. The rest of the time, tell your story with clarity. Az, you're a good writer, but you need to let it flow, and not strangle your thoughts like this. I mean, how many threads now dedicated to this one sentence or section? It's painful for a friend to watch. Write it and move on.

There's another member here who can hardly write a sentence worth reading. He's got analysis paralysis and all he's doing is churning rubbish, and in churning rubbish he'll never have anything but rubbish. You're a good writer. You can be spending this energy on moving to the finish, and you'll have a good story. You won't consider it to be perfect in every phrase, but I don't know any writer who finishes something and does. Don't be a football player who has the entire right side of the net open but doesn't consider the goal to be art unless he kicks it through the keeper's legs. :)
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
When you feel the need to explain things like this to a reader, you've already blown it. Few readers are interested in examining prospective symbolism in a sentence like that. They're expecting you to tell them what's happening. In war gaming, we call what you're doing "analysis paralysis". I might spend this much effort constructing one sentence in a novel, or possibly none at all. Once in a rare while it's important to get a sentence REALLY RIGHT. Everyone once in a while it's important to get a paragraph (or few) to paint a picture. You want dialogue (especially internal) to reveal character and stay in character. The rest of the time, tell your story with clarity. Az, you're a good writer, but you need to let it flow, and not strangle your thoughts like this. I mean, how many threads now dedicated to this one sentence or section? It's painful for a friend to watch. Write it and move on.

There's another member here who can hardly write a sentence worth reading. He's got analysis paralysis and all he's doing is churning rubbish, and in churning rubbish he'll never have anything but rubbish. You're a good writer. You can be spending this energy on moving to the finish, and you'll have a good story. You won't consider it to be perfect in every phrase, but I don't know any writer who finishes something and does. Don't be a football player who has the entire right side of the net open but doesn't consider the goal to be art unless he kicks it through the keeper's legs. :)
Sooooo ... anyway, about the topic of the thread. It's about how tone and voice can change everything. I've given an example so that people understand what I'm talking about. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but right now I'm honing my craft. I start writing for story alone in FEB.

ANY THOUGHTS!
 
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KeganThompson

Senior Member
I think I'm struggling with voice, I want the characters to have personality but I don't want it to change the somber mood I am trying to go for too much. I've been trying to add some scenes/ expanded scenes to give more context of what's going on. I was originally going to make my short story a lot longer and I only posted what I had so far. But I decided to keep it short and not expand on it too much. With the wip I posted, it came across as a ghost following around a love interest. and that's not what it is at all. (Though I am trying to suggest romantic undertones later~)
ANYWAY. I don't know if inserting these scenes is disrupting the flow I had/ making it come off info-dumpy and dropping info with little to no personality. I'm always so unsure if I'm going about it in the best way~
THOUGHTS?
(am I utilizing this thread right? LOL)
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I think I'm struggling with voice, I want the characters to have personality but I don't want it to change the somber mood I am trying to go for too much. I've been trying to add some scenes/ expanded scenes to give more context of what's going on. I was originally going to make my short story a lot longer and I only posted what I had so far. But I decided to keep it short and not expand on it too much. With the wip I posted, it came across as a ghost following around a love interest. and that's not what it is at all. (Though I am trying to suggest romantic undertones later~)
ANYWAY. I don't know if inserting these scenes is disrupting the flow I had/ making it come off info-dumpy and dropping info with little to no personality. I'm always so unsure if I'm going about it in the best way~
THOUGHTS?
(am I utilizing this thread right? LOL)
First of all, let me put something straight: I don't suffer from Analysis Paralysis nor (before your time) do I need to 'man up'. :)
Don't listen to that noise. What I say I'm doing is exactly what I say I'm doing, regardless of mind readers thinking otherwise.

If you DO decide to take a year to hone your skills, be certain to learn to compartmentalise. Focus entirely on your objective for the year and don't be distracted by cliched assessments. At some point, you're going to turn that analytical brain off and just 'write', and hopefully, having taken a year off to hone your skills, you will find what you write to be of a much higher standard than before you honed your skills.

To your point: During the process of honing your craft, I wouldn't worry too much about the bigger picture, which is why I advocate (and other published writers do too) writing shorter pieces, preferably flash fiction but that's up to you. There are many different aspects of writing but I'd say the three main aspects are craft, story and characters.

The question you are asking can't be resolved through craft practice alone. Learning the craft is simply sharpening your tools and learning to use them competently. Once those tools are sharpened and you are competent, then you can better express what you ask here.

Imagine trying to knock a tiny nail into a plank of wood with a sledgehammer. No matter how hard you try, the chances are it's not going to end well for either the nail or the wood. Now imagine you've learned you needed a tack hammer. That same nail and that same piece of wood no longer present a problem. The same goes for the problem you're asking above. Through learning to use the tools properly, you'll find the answer yourself much easier.

Too many people put the cart before the horse. To exaggerate a point to make one, they talk of writing an epic fantasy trilogy, even going so far as telling you how many words are going to be in each book. They'll tell you the story, the characters, the world building, the different races, the spells and how they're cast etc. They'll tell you they've written 200k words already. Then they post the first chapter of their epic trilogy ...

At that point you can do one of two things: You either destroy their dream or leave a generic and encouraging remark. But the truth is, they couldn't even write a decent sentence, let alone a decent paragraph or a decent scene or a decent chapter. All those years of writing as merely cementing their bad habits and now their bad habits ARE their voice. Now, not only do they need to learn to write well, but they've also got to undo years and years of bad habits.

So, don't worry. Practice, tighten your prose, choose words more wisely and all that good stuff.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
If you DO decide to take a year to hone your skills, be certain to learn to compartmentalise. Focus entirely on your objective for the year and don't be distracted by cliched assessments. At some point, you're going to turn that analytical brain off and just 'write', and hopefully, having taken a year off to hone your skills, you will find what you write to be of a much higher standard than before you honed your skills.

At this point, the way my writing and storytelling is going, if I want to even a chance at writing something decent I'm going to have to take at least a year before attempting to write a full novel again lol.

To your point: During the process of honing your craft, I wouldn't worry too much about the bigger picture, which is why I advocate (and other published writers do too) writing shorter pieces, preferably flash fiction but that's up to you. There are many different aspects of writing but I'd say the three main aspects are craft, story and characters.
The question you are asking can't be resolved through craft practice alone. Learning the craft is simply sharpening your tools and learning to use them competently. Once those tools are sharpened and you are competent, then you can better express what you ask here.

Imagine trying to knock a tiny nail into a plank of wood with a sledgehammer. No matter how hard you try, the chances are it's not going to end well for either the nail or the wood. Now imagine you've learned you needed a tack hammer. That same nail and that same piece of wood no longer present a problem. The same goes for the problem you're asking above. Through learning to use the tools properly, you'll find the answer yourself much easier.


I see what you are saying. I have a lot of ideas so I am working on shortening pieces, such as my current short story. Like I said before, the wip was originally going to be much longer but you had a good point and I need to just clean it up and "carve some meat" into certain parts. Its be easier than writing like 5,000+ words like what I was planning to do.
To me the big picture of the story is just as important and I want to focus on that as well, because it's why I decided to write in the first place. Get what I have in my head down on paper. There are many aspects to craft. Sentence structure is a big one but I want to make sure I express the big picture. If not then I have failed what I originally set out to do. Of course the better my craft the easier it can be expressed well. but while working on my smaller projects I want to take into account the big picture. I don't have the motivation to write something I haven't put much thought into solely to work on craft. (not saying you dont put thought into shorter works) I just have to feel an attachment to the overall story in order for me to even want to be bothered with writing it. Does that make sense?
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
The thread is about tone and how it changes the perception of a sentence ...
Sorry. That's what I thought I was addressing. You mentioned that readers were not 'getting' your sentence in the manner in which you intended, so I thought I'd take a look at that sentence. The structure, tense, and wording of a sentence is how we create tone, and are the components of our authorial 'voice'. Yes, the words we choose and how we put them together create the tone of our work. Often, however, new writers try far too hard to achieve the tone they want, burying the story under mounds of purple prose. Like nearly every other aspect of writing, from dialogue to description to fight scenes and love scenes, tone is best established with light strokes and carefully chosen words. Tone is like the bass-line in a good rock song, it's there from the beginning, and the song (story) wouldn't be the same without it, but 99% of your listeners (readers) don't pay much attention to it.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
For my own edification here... what would you consider to be a cliched assessment? This is a term I haven't seen much, and I am intrigued.
The go to critiques. Overwritten and Purple to be precise. I know very well that I often skirt these terms, and sometimes hit them square in the face, but that's the point in me practising. I'm not going to compromise what I'm aiming for, even if sometimes I don't quite get it right. I don't care how long it takes. I will eventually perfect it ... but I aint gonna do that by not trying to perfect it. I expect to take around a year to finish my first novel (that's from Feb), and regardless of whether it gets published (which is highly unlikely), I'll still press on with my vision. I do not find straightforward prose interesting to write.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Yes, I think that line does create a more somber, heavy sense just by virtue of it being a little more poetic. For me, writing that is very standardised can seem a bit light - which is fine if the moment demands lightness but if it doesn't, I can find things easy to miss.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Yes, I think that line does create a more somber, heavy sense just by virtue of it being a little more poetic. For me, writing that is very standardised can seem a bit light - which is fine if the moment demands lightness but if it doesn't, I can find things easy to miss.
The thing is, I did't want this thread to become a 'me' thread again. I merely offered an example of what I meant about how tone can change the meaning of a sentence. This thread was to inspire a discussion about the importance of tone, not to dissect my example ... yet again. There's plenty of other places that could be done but for some reason, a lot of people only seem to want to critique my work when I'm not posting it to be critiqued LOL
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
The thing is, I did't want this thread to become a 'me' thread again. I merely offered an example of what I meant about how tone can change the meaning of a sentence. This thread was to inspire a discussion about the importance of tone, not to dissect my example ... yet again. There's plenty of other places that could be done but for some reason, a lot of people only seem to want to critique my work when I'm not posting it to be critiqued LOL
Provide someone else's example then. :) Yours is the example given; yours is the example that's going to get talked about.

One example I always use is the opener to 'A Tale of Two Cities' - it's all tell, big load of comma splices, yet it stands the test of time and it works. Because voice, absolutely.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Provide someone else's example then. :) Yours is the example given; yours is the example that's going to get talked about.

One example I always use is the opener to 'A Tale of Two Cities' - it's all tell, big load of comma splices, yet it stands the test of time and it works. Because voice, absolutely.
No, the example shouldn't be discussed. The reason for the example should be discussed. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm the only one on this site than can compartmentalise :)
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
I'm not sure if I understand what you're trying to get across with this post.

Are you telling us how you resolved an issue with your tone, style and voice?
Are you asking us to help with your tone, style and voice?
Are you letting us know that we should be okay with our tone, style and voice because it is a function of who we are in our work?
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Sooooo ... anyway, about the topic of the thread. It's about how tone and voice can change everything. I've given an example so that people understand what I'm talking about. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but right now I'm honing my craft. I start writing for story alone in FEB.

ANY THOUGHTS!
Yeah, but then you spent a paragraph explaining your symbolism behind the sentence, which is what drew me to comment. That's no good. You write it. The reader reads it. You don't get to explain it. If we're discussing "word selection defines tone", of course it does. Word selection defines every element of what we write. There are some subjects in writing I'm up for writing a short technical article about, but I'm afraid "tone" isn't one of those subjects. It's just something I do based on how I want a story or a scene to feel.

One of the best scenes I've ever read was written by an author named Jo-Ann Carson. You've probably never heard of her unless you've seen me mention her. She wrote a scene in a haunted house that was chill bump raising and laugh out loud funny both at the same time. That's an INCREDIBLE talent, and I wish I had it. :) Midnight Magic. Normally you're going to do one or the other. :)

"Overwritten" and "purple" are NOT cliched assessments. They come up in critique when the writer has created overwritten or purple prose, which the majority of people consider to be mistakes. If I'm reading to help out a friend, I may read the whole thing to be of assistance in a critique. Otherwise, once I realize what I'm in for, I'm outta there. You'll find a few people who are drawn to it, but frankly, not that many. I don't get the concept of intentionally doing something poorly to learn how to do it better. I'd prefer to do it better in the first place and not waste time. Let me rephrase the "poorly". Yes, there can be incredible craft in producing purple prose. It will be popular with ardent fans of particular 17th and 18th century styles. The reason it's hit hard in modern critique (and by modern I refer to approximately the last 70-100 years) is because the author is trying harder to impress than to tell the story. The purple stuff is more interesting to the author than the typical reader. Yes, purple prose can set tone, but an author can set the same tone with a page turner.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Yeah, but then you spent a paragraph explaining your symbolism behind the sentence, which is what drew me to comment. That's no good. You write it. The reader reads it. You don't get to explain it. If we're discussing "word selection defines tone", of course it does. Word selection defines every element of what we write. There are some subjects in writing I'm up for writing a short technical article about, but I'm afraid "tone" isn't one of those subjects. It's just something I do based on how I want a story or a scene to feel.
If you're looking to write something that feels psychedelic, you've hit the correct tone, style and voice with that sentence. What that your intent AZ?
 
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