Tonal Thursday

I missed what would have been WIP Wednesday because hey, I was actually writing! That brings me to the point of this short post: TONE.

Merriam Webster online defines TONE as: style or manner of expression in speaking or writing.

I like to say it's a "feel" to a piece, and it helps create the overall mood.

Tone is what I've been wrestling with in my current, impromptu WIP short. I wouldn't have started it if I hadn't been intrigued by the idea of "creepy paintings," but I also thought it wouldn't be that hard to establish the tone of the story. How wrong I was.

When I write, tone is usually a by-product of a everything else. Most of the time, tone just happens for me. It's a result of the kind of language I use, the way the characters express themselves, the imagery used for setting and emotion. Let's take the First Lines I shared from 2 of my unfinished shorts, "Thorns" and "Clockwork Heart."

Thorns: Before Leander's father died, he had a moment of burning clarity after weeks of fevered daze.

Clockwork Heart: There once was a man whose wife was in need of a new heart, so he endeavored to make her one - a better one of fine gears and careful enchantment.

I started these at around the same time, probably a week apart. Both of them are supposed to be fairytale-like, but I personally think "Clockwork Heart" has more of the traditional tone of a fairy tale. I didn't really plan out either opening line. I wrote knowing I wanted a kind of dreamy quality to the stories. The thing with "Clockwork Heart" is that the first line clearly sets the tone of the rest of the story. It would be strange if I departed too much from this first line, whereas the first line of "Thorns" allows for more tonal leeway. It sounds serious and a little distant, but it could easily become a close third point of view, for example.

My current short with the creepy paintings is supposed to be, in a word, creepy. The first line does lend itself to creepiness, but it's like the first line to "Thorns" where the tone could easily change in the lines following without making the first seem out of place. You give that to a main character with a flippant, easy-going personality, and she will take advantage of any tonal ambiguity that first line gives. You mix a la-dee-dah attitude with a story that's supposed to be creepy and well, you don't get much of the "creepy," let me tell you. So I've been trying to strike a balance between the intended tone of the story and my main character's personality, and it's really hard! I got two scenes in before I realized her personality had skewed the tone of the piece so far off track that I'd be hard pressed to pull it back later.

This story has existed for somewhere around 2 weeks, and I've already been forced to start all over with a second version. Version 2 seems to be going better with more of the right story tone but still just enough of the main character's carefree approach to life.

My question to you then, dear readers, is what do you do when your character's personality gets in the way of the tone of your story? How do you make them take their predicaments seriously? On the flip side, how do you know if it's your choice of tone that is off and not your character's?


Gennia said...

I want to reach this creepy painting story after it's done! You know how I feel about creepy paintings...

Krispy said...

And you know how I feel about them, but unfortunately, there's not enough creepiness going on yet. *SIGH*

Merc said...

The creepy paintings sounds fun... 's also a good topic. I shall have to think about it. (Hopefully also REMEMBER to think/write out thoughts when I have them... heh.)

Yunaleska said...

When my character's tone is different to the wip tone, I usually get cruel and make *things* happen so they have to change their attitude. %-)