Because those are the only strong things. Read your work looking for places where your engagement wanes. Careful is right next. When it comes to tone, dont try to fix the boring parts—toss them. You cant fix boring. Other places where the delete key comes in handy: Off-topic tangents. You know how it goes: you start out writing about the presidents pooch, good and by the homestretch youre discoursing disdainfully on the state of our economy and what a boob the president is—as if people are lining up to hear your thoughts on that. Stick to the subject at hand. Dont hit readers over the head with your own interpretation of the meaning of it all.
If you reread a piece and decide that nothing works until the second page, why not simply start it there? The delete key is your friend. The novelist Carolyn Chute told. Writers Ask : I write a lot of junk. On and on and on, all essay this junk. But every now and then this dramatic moment happens, so i lift that out and put that aside. And then I write all this junk: Theyre brushing their teeth, theyre sitting there, theyre looking around—you know. Then something will happen and Ill pull that out.
Not only do you want to read on, but you want to know what else shes written so you can get that, too. You will choose different tones for different subjects, of course, just as you would dress differently for a date than for an interview. But stay away from changing tones within a piece. One minute youre riffing comically on Uncle Franks parade of girlfriends, and the next, the reader is caught chortling when you shift to Uncle Franks abuse of his daughter. Or the thriller shifts from a slumped body in an alley to the detectives girlfriend shopping for bridal gowns, and suddenly were in a romance. (Notice, by the way, how many genres actually have tone in their names: thriller, romance, mystery, horror. read your work looking for places where the tone fades or shifts. Focus your revision there.
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Let the dream experience ripen in your memory until youve achieved the distance you need.). If your subject is inherently serious, try taking a lighter approach. Whats your poo telling you? Came to Chronicle books as a serious examination of—well, you know. In that form, it might have sold a few thousand copies.
The lighter treatment led to sales of hundreds of thousands of copies. Theres no denying that titles with tone sell books: Consider my miserable, lonely lesbian Pregnancy or, skinny bitch. Keep tone consistent from start to finish. Make sure your very first sentence establishes the tone you want. Look at the opening line of The lesson by toni cade bambara: Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair. In one sentence, you know who everybody.
Now, during your revision, go deeper. Seek out the harder truths. Its in the second, third, fourth draft that you say something we dont expect you to say, something even you didnt expect you to say. When you get tired of being nice. I wanted a car so i could drive out of my marriage. Surprise yourself, and you will surprise your reader.
Similarly, youll want to avoid taking an overly emotional approach to an overly emotional subject. Think of the dry, reserved tone in which joan Didion recalls the anguish of losing her husband. The year of Magical Thinking. What if she had wailed about her loss? There would be nothing for us readers to do, even if the emotions being reported to us were very sad. (Note: If youre having a hard time distancing yourself from the raw emotion of a personal subject, this may be a sign that you need to let time do its magic work. Frank McCourt said it took him years before he could detach from his anger toward his feckless father enough to give. Angelas Ashes its nonjudgmental tone. When something bad happens, of course we feel upset, even as if life has treated us unfairly—but thats not a great place to write from.
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You wont have to dubai search for awkward or boring or whiny parts—youll hear them. Some problems with tone are small and essay can be easily fixed during revision. Others might require a new approach to the piece as a whole. Lets look at a few of the easiest and most effective ways to improve the tone of your writing. Avoiredictable treatment of your subject. In the first draft you write what people expect you to write—what you expect yourself to write. I wanted a car. The tone becomes predictable.
Like the tone you use when you talk to somebody, tone in writing determines how a reader responds. If the piece sounds angry, he gets nervous. If its wry and knowing, he settles in for an enjoyable read. If its dull, he leaves it on the train, half read. Thus, the wrong tone can derail an otherwise good piece. Im surprised how seldom writing students note this during our workshop discussions, as if its impolite to admit that theyre made uncomfortable by how much the narrator seems to hate her mother, or to say that their thoughts drifted elsewhere by the second page. You relationships can detect tone problems in your own work simply by noting where your attention wanders as you reread. Or, better, by reading it aloud. When youre ready to revise a piece, try reading it to someone else, or asking someone to read it to you.
you were a photographer, tone would be the way you light your subject. For dramatic shadows, lit from the side. For a scary effect, from above. For romance, lit with candles. In a movie, tone is often conveyed with music—think of the ominous score accompanying the girl swimming in shark-infested waters in Jaws. A writer doesnt have a soundtrack or a strobe light to build the effect she wants. She has conflict, surprise, imagery, details, the words she chooses, and the way she arranges them in sentences.
A nonfiction book on balancing a family and a career skirts the edge of essay whining. An agent turns down a query because she feels too much distance from the heart of the story. I scan the latest work of a journalist friend whos coming to dinner and find it meticulously sourced and well written, but grim in outlook. And of course any publication you want to write for will have its own tone, which it would be smart for you to try to match. Notice how quietly all. New Yorker profile pieces begin, while, utne reader favors unconventional and unexpected viewpoints that challenge the status quo. What exactly do i mean by tone?
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