This Week’s Writing Challenge: How Well Can You Identify Tone?


We writers strive to be as clear as possible in what we publish. We have a certain message, and we want to convey it – a worthwhile mission for both fiction and non-fiction.

But what about the tone we’re writing in? Do we know how we’re coming across with that message we’re trying to promote? Do we recognize how well or how poorly we’re projecting ourselves, our characters or our subject matter?

Depending on the book in question, I seriously hope not. Because some authors’ tones make them sound atrociously full of themselves!

Then again, some writers seem to nail it. The ones who do might have a stronger natural talent. Or their expressive skills might come from years of practice. Or they might have a great editor or writing coach who helps them see the tones they’re using.

If you’re looking for a professional like that, then email me at jdilouie@innovativeediting.com. I’d be happy to help!

Until then, here’s today’s writing-related Challenge (as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page). It includes a few opening paragraphs for those of you brave enough to take on tone.

Understand the tone you’re writing with.

Sometimes, we think we’re conveying one attitude in our fiction or non-fiction writing, while our word choices and structure are actually coming across a whole lot differently to readers. This can easily be due to our personal biases: We’re in our own heads; we’re not in anyone else’s. So all we’re seeing is what we’re thinking.

On the plus side, being in our own heads means we can write what we write, which is awesome! Nobody else can do what you do in the exact way you do it. But it also means we can offend people without ever trying.

Of course, there are authors who deliberately try to be offensive, such as Chelsea Handler and Bill Maher. In their cases, they make money because their specific audiences appreciate that kind of tone. They’re hardly my cup of tea, but the readers they do draw in are flat-out looking for acidic, sacrilegious styles of humor.

I presume that’s not the case for the following opening paragraphs, each taken from a book I read this year. Yet they do still project some kind of tone. That much is inevitable.

I’m not going to tell you my opinions about them though. It’s now your job to identify the tones they use and what word choices, sentence structures, white spaces or other writing constructs make them come across that way.

Here we go…

Gods, it was boiling in this useless excuse for a kingdom.

Or maybe it felt that way because Celaena Sardothien had been lounging on the lip of the terra-cotta roof since mid-morning, an arm flung over her eyes, slowly baking in the sun like the loaves of flatbread the city’s poorest citizens left on their windowsills because they couldn’t afford brick ovens.

And gods, she was sick of flatbread—teggya, they called it. Sick of the crunchy, oniony taste of it that even mouthfuls of water couldn’t wash away. If she never ate another bite of teggya again, it would be too soon.

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Everybody likes a good story or an interesting odd fact. This is a book of them—stories about inventions, presidential secrets, hoaxes, rare incidents, and cultural idiosyncrasies. It is not a book of tall tales in the genre of Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed. The great majority of the stories are not well known and will surprise even professional historians. We found them by searching through biographies and histories and by asking specialists in American history for suggestions. While all of the odd facts are true, some of the anecdotes are questionable, but we have included only those which strike a chord of verisimilitude. A few of them are clearly apocryphal, such as a story by Parson Weems, but they are included here because they are characteristically American.

One-Night Stands With American History by Richard Shenkman and Kurt Reiger

The road never ended.

Nor did the thoughts that haunted the young British lieutenant Daniel Lowe night and day.

How did I ever get to this place?

Although just twenty-two years of age, Daniel felt as ancient as the granite stones lining the dirt highway. This war had long ceased being an adventure. He had seen enough bloodshed, starvation, and disease to last his entire lifetime. Only last night he held one of the regimental soldiers as he gasped his last breath, one more victim of the food shortage.

Road to Deer Run by Elaine Marie Cooper

The alarm clock goes off. It’s time to get out of bed. This is your first decision of the day. Will you get out of bed or hit the snooze button? You press the snooze button and roll over.

What just happened? No big deal, right? Wrong. You just lost the first battle of the day. Resistance just kicked your butt. Resistance has broken your will before you’ve even gotten out of bed. You will most likely be its slave for the rest of the day.

Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly

Shoot me an email with your conclusions about the tones you found! I’m curious to know whether they match my own.

Which, incidentally, segues perfectly into tomorrow’s tone-focused Writing Rule. See you then!

#tone #reader #openingparagraph #message #editor #writingcoach #fiction #nonfiction

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