Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don't take that tone with me!


Tone: In my previous post, I mentioned that I was reading Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Reaches of Farthest Space, by Phillip Reeve and David Wyatt. I can't recommend this enough. It's a middle-grade space fantasy set in the Victorian British Empire--if they had developed space travel. It's a rollicking good time and I think a great deal of it's charm derives from the tone. (The rest of it's charm is probably due to the space pirates and enormous, man-eating spiders, but I digress.)

It's a first person narrative, told by Art Mumby, an eleven year old boy, with the occasional intrusion of his sister's diary. The prose is wordy and veddy, veddy English as befitting a proper Victorian lad. But the tone is something more, there is humor, an arch wink and a nod that makes the whole thing just a delightful, frothy read. I'm having such a lovely time in this world.

But sometimes I want something else, something darker and richer. I'm a fan of L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Forever Hero trilogy. Modesitt is the master of the brooding, thoughtful tone. As we see his character move from a wily young orphan to a weary immortal, the tone progresses so that you feel the character's burden of everlasting life.

When I'm discussing tone, I mean specifically manner in which words and thoughts are expressed. For me, it's often a conscious choice. When I conceive of a story idea, the tone comes wedded to it. I think about the tone, the feel, the mood, as much as I think about anything when I write. I concentrate on maintaining the tone. My greatest joy in both reading and writing isn't the perfect description, the gorgeous prose. While I appreciate those things, I either fall in love with the tone of a book very quickly, or I don't. And that makes it very important to me.

How do you approach tone? Is it a conscious choice or happy accident? Something you concentrate on or completely organic?

8 comments:

wordsmith said...

It depends. Sometimes the tone is set from the biginning, but others, the work doesn't find its voice for a while. Of course, that means rewriting early sections, but that's okay, because once the voice is found, and the tone established and you're in the groove the rewrite is easier.
Great post.

Arachne Jericho said...

I love your posts, Mary!

Tone is a conscious choice for me, because it's such an integral part of storytelling. I need it there before I can get the story down.

Midnight Muse said...

There has been so far only one story I've done where I had tone as a conscious choice - it was a humor fantasy piece, in first person, and that was my first try in both genre and POV.

I think because it was first person, I took great care to create and maintain a tone. But in my usual flavor, it's entirely unconscious. I'm sure just by sheer accident, many of us write in a style and tone that it just who and what we are as writers. But it's definitely fun to actually put forth an effort to create a specific tone - just as an excercise if nothing else.

And you had me until Giant Spiders. *shudder*

Virginia Lee said...

I don't consciously think about tone most of the time because when I do whatever I'm writing seems to become contrived.

Most of what I write is character driven and they take the lead for most elements of style. Pacing, language usage, everything.

Tone, huh? We're supposed to think about that!? Gah...

Ed Pahule said...

I just write. I have no idea what tone is. I couldn't tell you what the tone of any story I've ever read is. Maybe that's my problem. I have no idea what I'm doing.

Mary B said...

Ed, just because I obsess on a topic doesn't mean it's important.

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Both of those stories sound wonderful. I love the idea of a growing tone in character as you mentioned for Forever Hero. The development of that character sounds like a gripping/captivating adventure.

I find that I simply let what happens happen on the page in the first draft. In the second I go over it and pick where it rings then develop the consistency of that through the rest of the book.

Elrena said...

Oh, everything I do is pretty much an accident!

And this book sounds awesome -- I can't wait to check it out!