Updated: Aug 29, 2020
So we now know that literary tone is important. Very important. It can make or break a manuscript’s prospects or a book’s sales.
If someone doesn’t like the literary tone of a novel, they’ll put it down. Therefore, if you want to lessen that risk, you’ve got to play nice.
When it comes to nonfiction, some writers make a whole entire living off their unpleasant authorial tones. There’s money to be made in harsh, forceful, exceptionally direct, mean, snippy, caustic, derogatory, pretentious, and/or sacrilegious word choices, word arrangements, and other such displays of attitude.
Personally, I don’t often get the appeal. But to each their own in nonfiction.
Besides, nonfiction books feature blatantly laid-out themes targeted to very specific audiences… or against them.
For example, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is written with a derogatory tone against Christians. But his targeted audience is filled with atheists and agnostics. Therefore, he’s preaching to the non-church choir and doesn’t risk losing his base or their money by mocking who he wants to mock.
Novels, however, have to be much more inclusive if they want to sell. They’re read first and foremost as entertainment, and anything that gets in the way of that entertainment can be off-putting or worse.
Being pleasant can be problematic for people who are always coming from their own perspectives. Namely everyone.
Understand the tone you’re writing with.
Sometimes, we think we’re conveying a certain tone in our fiction or nonfiction writing. We even intend to convey it. There’s not a contrary thought about it in our cute little writing heads. Alas, that doesn’t mean we don’t convey something completely different with our word choices and sentence structures.
In part, that’s why we discussed writing biases before: because we’re all in our own heads. We’re not in anyone else’s. So all we’re seeing is what we’re thinking. That’s one more reason to get second and third opinions.
Remember: Biases are unavoidable to some degree. We’re always going to have them, no matter how hard we try not to.
I’d love to say that’s not the case with tone, but sorry.
Better luck next time.
Here’s three things to remember from this post:
Literary tone is important.
Every writer has a literary tone they can work on cultivating.
Every reader has the ability to interpret literary tone, and they might not always take it the way you meant it.
Actually, correction on that last one. They definitely won’t always take it the way you meant it. And to some degree, you're just going to have to be okay with that.
There are oversensitive people out there, and even non-oversensitive types have bad days now and again. You can’t stop every person having a bad day from ever reading your published work.
All you can do is try your best to come across in as marketable a way as possible to as many people as possible. This means you should get pre-publishing feedback from as many honest, caring people as possible who can critique your literary tone.
I know I’ve said that dozens of times by now: Get a second opinion. Get a second opinion. Get a second opinion.
Blah blah blah. Chirp chirp. Beep beep.
But I’m only repeating it because it’s true, not to mention important. For all I know, you might have a great grasp on your literary tone.
Or you might not at all.
Either way, you won’t know until you ask.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on literary tone here.