My Editorial Take on Your Writing Tone… How Much Does It Matter?


I ended yesterday’s writing-related, tone-focused Challenge on something of a cliffhanger. That wasn’t part of my evil editorial plan, but it happened nonetheless.

Here’s what I said:

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!

That was in reference to four examples of opening paragraphs, both fiction and non-fiction. The challenge was to identify the tone or tones each one used, since it’s impossible for a writer to write without one.

Consider our spoken tone. Even when we don’t modulate our message with different pitches, inflections or noticeable breaks, it’s still called a “monotone.”

As in one tone.

As in tone still exists.

The same goes for the written variety. Depending on our passion for the subject, our preconceived notions on it (i.e., biases) and other such factors, we might come across as arrogant, blasé, constructive, damning, excited, fearful, gregarious…

And depending on our readers’ passion for the subject, preconceived notions (i.e., biases) and other such factors, they’re going to be interested by our tones or turned off by them – the keyword here being “depending.” That’s where our actual Writing Rule #37 comes in:

Different tones are going to attract certain people, repel them or bore them.

If this sounds a lot like this week’s writing challenge, bear with me. Because this is less about how you’re coming across as a writer and more about reader preference.

You’re just not going to please everyone.

This is not an excuse to say whatever you want however you want to. There’s a very specific reason why this week’s Challenge was what it was and the Rule is what it is.

While you’re writing and editing and incorporating outside editorial feedback into your fiction or non-fiction manuscript, you need to be aware of the tones you’re using and whether they’re what you intend them to be.

But once that manuscript is no longer a mere manuscript but a published piece, you need to accept the fact that even if you absolutely nailed your tone down to exactly what you wanted it to be, it’s not going to make everyone happy.

Is it respectful? Some readers find that boring.

Is it disrespectful? Some readers find that obnoxious.

Is it professional? Some readers find that pretentious.

Is it conversational? Some readers find that sloppy.

You’re just not going to please everyone. You can’t win ‘em all. To each their own.

No matter which way you put it, it adds up to the same writing-life lesson, as ensconced in our Writing Rule, which is worth restating: Different tones are going to attract certain people, repel them or bore them.

The sooner you accept it, the happier a published author or author-in-the-making you’re going to be.

P.S. It occurs to me that fiction writers might reasonably argue about how their manuscript or book’s tone won’t reflect badly on them. It’ll reflect badly on their narrator. But let’s face it, as readers, we know when writers are inserting themselves and their tones too heavily into a story. And it’s usually a turn-off.

At least that’s my take. Though, as this blog post fully acknowledges, you might have a completely different opinion on writing tone than me.

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