One of the most overlooked aspects of writing is tone. In movies, the tone is set and developed by the musical scoring. Eerie noises conjure scary thoughts and imagination. In photography, the lighting would cast different tones and emotions to a scene. In photography, a play of light and shadows evoke drama. A writer, however, doesn’t have music or lights to convey the tone of his work. He only has words, imagery and sentence construction to build up the tone of a story or article. So lets discuss the different types of tone in writing in brief.
What exactly is tone in writing? Briefly, it’s not just what is being said but how it is said. Tone is your attitude as writer towards your topic. It is how you – as a writer – feel about the subject you are writing about. This is what sets the mood for the readers – that is, how they feel about what you wrote. It is therefore important that your tone in writing matches the emotion you want to your readers to feel. If you want to stir up passion and nationalism, you have to use words that will inspire these responses from your readers. In the same way, if you are writing a light article for a feel-good movie, then you must also use the appropriate words in a light-hearted manner. Your tone will set the mood for your readers and convey the message that you want to bring across.
Different Types of Tone in Writing
The tone of your composition is often established when you provide the answers to these basic questions regarding the purpose of your work:
• Why are you writing this?
• Who are you writing this to?
• What do you want your readers to learn or think about as a consequence of reading this?
Tone depends upon those three questions and other factors too. For different types of writing, there are some aspects that must be considered in order to classify it as such. For example, in expository writing, a clear, concise and courteous tone is a must. The same is true for journalistic writing. When it comes to creative writing, the tone is defined by the genre. Simply put, it is more expressive and descriptive.
Oftentimes, a perfectly good piece of writing becomes derailed and ineffective just because of the wrong tone used by the writer. These tone problems can often be corrected simply by having your piece read aloud. Once you’ve identified the parts with an awkward or boring tone, you can then make the necessary revisions. Here are some tips and suggestions to improve the tone of a written work.
1. Don’t be predictable.
Most subjects already carry with them a tone of voice or emotion that needs no more explanations. An example is death. In this case, you can choose to write on the grimness of death or how depressing death is. This is a predictable tone that can work just fine, but may not necessarily get your work noticed. Injecting a bit of unpredictability means giving your subject a different treatment than the usual, producing a surprise twist that will definitely get the attention of your readers. This is creativity in action.
On the same subject of death for example, instead of the usual grim and depressing tone, why not use a tone of writing that will leave the readers with a message of hope and peace. Consider the following titles, “Death Comes Like a Reaper” and “Now I Lay Me Down to Peaceful Eternal Sleep.” See the difference? I am willing to bet that more readers would grab a book with the latter title than the former. Wouldn’t you?
2. Consistency is Key.
The first sentence of your first paragraph will set the tone for your entire work. Decide early on what tone you want a specific piece of writing have, and stick to it all throughout. This will help you build up to the peak of your piece, and hook your readers from start to finish.
Some tricks can help you maintain a consistent tone throughout your work. First, select a paragraph from your piece that exactly reflects the tone you want to set for this work, and keep a copy of it right in front of you as you proceed with writing. It also helps to read another writer’s piece that sounds exactly the way you want your piece to sound. Study how the writer uses rhythm in his work, his choice of words and try to mimic them while reflecting your own style. Also, try to look for sentences in your work that have greater impact and move them to the start of your written piece. You could do the same to the ending, too, and move strong sentences towards the end for a more cohesive piece.
3. Don’t be afraid to Delete.
When going over your piece and you find sections that do not sound the way you want them to, immediately hit delete button without having second thoughts. You will find that most of your work will not make it to your final draft, but it shouldn’t bother you because you will eventually be replacing those thoughts with more viable content. Just keep writing until inspiration comes to you.
Some other areas where you need to be hasty with the delete button are when the tone gets boring. Boring is bad, and cannot be fixed. Cut it out and start anew. Also look out for areas where you go off topic. Stick to your outline and delete any other subject that tries to overtake your original train of thought.
Another tendency you want to cut is overemphasizing themes and offering too lengthy explanations. Whether you are writing non-fiction or fiction, a clear and concise narrative is preferable to a long-winding one. Clarity only comes when you are being straight to the point in elaborating the themes in your work.
4. Let Tension do its work.
Tension in a written work means the presence of conflicts that need to be resolved. It is usually established by pressure coming from outside forces. In order to contribute to the tone of an essay or novel, tension must be sustained. If your piece lacks tension, however, it will eventually lose the reader’s attention and interest in what comes next because there is nothing to look forward to. No tension, no conflict, no resolution. So why bother, right?
5. Speak with your Voice.
The tone is a subset of your voice. Your tone sets the mood for an article of novel while your voice is defined by your personality. Therefore you could write many different types of written work in various tones but your voice – that trademark personality that is inherently yours alone – will remain the same. Your voice is established early on in your writing career, and in order for you to build a name of your own, you have to stay true to this voice. Your voice will identify you from the many writers who may be writing the same articles as you are, but in different tones and voice.
6. Use vivid descriptions and details to emphasize tone.
Saying, “I was sweating so much from the heat,” is not the same as “the sweat plastered my shirt onto my back as it trickled down my spine.” Vivid descriptions add to the tone of your writing just like icing on a cake. It gives your reader a more in-depth understanding of your characters, or the situation you are writing about. Instead of using vague adjectives to describe a scene or situation, use sensory details that will immediately transport your reader to a different world, one where his imagination is driven by every vivid word that he reads.
Another way to emphasize the tone of your writing is to use varying lengths of sentences, alternate sentence structures and combined sentences. The variety in construction will take your reader on a dynamic trip through your essay. This also keeps your work from acquiring a monotonous tone.
Nevertheless, there are also a few pitfalls that need to be avoided when using details and descriptions. And these are the use of too many adjectives and adverbs than is needed, and the use of overused cliches. If you can, replace your adverbs with verbs as they are more powerful. Take, for example the sentence, the girl ran furiously into the classroom and she stormed into the classroom. The second sentence makes a more powerful description of the same scene, conveying a more specific emotion. The use of cliches, on the other hand, although accepted as a writing tool, may come across as a lack of imagination. Come up with your own descriptive word combinations that will evoke stronger emotions from your readers.
7. Recognize when a project poses potential problems because of tone.
At times a writer will find himself tasked to write about a very personal subject that he feels strongly about. If this subject is something that you can write a mouthful about, and not entirely a good one, then consider postponing the project to a later time.
Imagine you just went through a divorce process that caused you so much pain and stress, and you decide that you are going to go ahead and write about the evils of marriage and its failure as a component of society. It is highly probable that you would only be ranting and raving about your recent experience, making your readers feel all sorts of awkward and uneasy. Why not let some time pass before you sit down on this task? Think things through, allow your emotions to settle down and regain all sense of rationality before pursuing this task. This will allow you to fix the tone of your message before you even start to write it down. Do not ever let a negative tone take control of your senses and translate into your writing.
A beautifully written composition will definitely acquire a greater depth of character when written in the proper tone and voice. Learning how to manipulate words and ideas into a cohesive sentence while maintaining the tone is a skill that most writers would do well to master. With these simple tips, you should be able to master this skill and perfect the tone of writing for every type of composition that you find yourself working on. Read your work aloud, be mindful of your tone from start to finish, and keep a sample paragraph before you as you write and you would be on the right road to perfecting your writing tone.