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You Watch Your Tone When You’re Talking to Me!

The Definition of the Week this time around is for the word “tone.” It’s something you automatically have whenever you write, even if we don’t always recognize it. Yet it is changeable. It’s not as if we’re born with a certain writing tone and have to die the same exact way.

Tone is a topic we’re going to explore as much as possible this week, since it is important no matter how much it’s admittedly overlooked in the wide spectrum of creative (and non-fiction) writing lesson plans.

Obviously though, the first step is to understand what it is:


Last Tuesday’s topic (9/12/2017) was “bias,” which dealt with the what and why of our beliefs. Today, we’re talking “tone,” which can be described as how we convey what we believe.

Put another way, tone is how we express what we think.

A book’s (i.e., the author’s) tone can be snippy, serious, academic, witty, caring, sappy or genuine, just to name a few possibilities. We can think of it as our literary attitudes.

What’s your general attitude about life? Whatever it is, it’s probably going to come across in your writing through your word choices and sentence structures.

For example, a late great historical fiction mystery writer, Elizabeth Peters, had more than one series. I read books in two of them, only to find a central tone that connected them all.

There were different characters with different beliefs in different settings and different time periods arranged around different plots. Yet Peters’ tone remained the same. She came across as dry and delightfully snarky, a little full of herself (or maybe a lot) and pretty set in her ways. It’s therefore not difficult to conclude that this was exactly how she was.

(I want to add so many clarifications and additions here, but they’re points for Thursday’s writing-related Challenge, not Tuesday’s Definition.)

Based on the tone of her books, I would love to have met her, no matter how much we disagreed on the value of Christianity.

I bring our religious differences up specifically, since I’m about to bash Christian novels with this next example, and I want to make sure I don’t sound like I’m bashing Christianity itself. I’m very committed to my faith, but too many novels that fall into that genre are sappy and a little (or maybe a lot) self-righteous in the tones they convey. Hence the reason I almost always regret reading one.

I hate to say this, but most Christian novelists sound like they think they’re saving the world when their predominant – and probably only – audience is already saved.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. In fact, I’d point out one of my featured Authors of the Month, Bonnie Mae Evans, in this regard. She did a great job of conveying her faith-focused tone throughout her novel, The Trees Will Clap.

But again, she seems to be the exception in this area. Which is sad.

I’ve pretty much shunned reading a whole entire genre because of issues that could arguably boil down to tone. And I know from talking to fellow Christians that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

In the Christian fiction genre’s defense, there are plenty of other authors out there in plenty of other fiction and non-fiction genres whose literary attitudes are inexcusably self-righteous. So if that’s the tone you’re working with, I sincerely suggest you get a new one.

How? We’ll be covering that tone-focused topic on Thursday. Stay tuned!

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