Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 11: Striking the Proper Tone

Let's say you're at your local bookstore browsing for something to read and you come across a book with this picture on it's cover:
With no title and no descriptions you already have a pretty good idea that the book is going to be dark, maybe a bit spooky, and definitely harkening back to Bronte gothicism.  You figured this all out from a picture how?  Because the picture displays tone - the feeling, tenor, or mood of a work.  As a writer you are without the use of visual media so you must paint the picture with words, helping your readers feel the tone by emphasizing the right images.

To help explain how tone can effect the way a reader "sees" you story I'm going to use an example from Laura Whitcomb's book Novel Shortcuts.  She's taken an excerpt from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and changed the tone to make it dark.  Here is her version:
 "Two figures lurked in the ruins that had once been a graveyard.  One figure was bent, heavy of trunk and limb.  The other thin with a menacing expression.  Fog curled between the headstones like the Angel of Death.  The two would wait patiently for him all night if they had to."
Pretty creepy-spooky, right?  Now here's the actual version:
"Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard.  Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic-grade lurkers.  If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded "Born to Lurk," these two would have been on the album cover.  They had been lurking in the fog for an hour now, but they had been pacing themselves and could lurk for the rest of the night if necessary, with still enough sullen menace left for a final burst of lurking around dawn." 
The exact same scenario but with two totally different feels to them.  In the first example Whitcomb describes a guy as being "heavy of trunk and limb."  Using the word "heavy" she adds weight to the narrative which, when combined with the words "trunk and limb" makes us see an imposing character who is thick and sturdy.  In Gaiman and Pratchett's story they describe the man as "hunched and squat," which lends a more comic, less imposing feel to the story.  That description alone wouldn't let us sense the comedic style of narration, but in conjunction with phrases like "Olympic-grade lurkers" and "Born to Lurk" we see that the authors have a dark, tongue in cheek writing style.

Before sitting down to write a scene try to imagine that you are watching that scene through a camera lens.  What images from the scene's background will assist in the creation of your tone?  What about mannerisms of your characters?  What can your camera focus on that will help the reader feel the tenor of your story?  Once you've decided on what to highlight in your narrative take a few moments to find descriptive words that will pack a punch - less long-flowing, more concise but meaningful.

MY DAY 11:  I took the day to finish my outline as far as possible, but I STILL can't decide how I want my story to end.  (Is that a bad thing?)  I was however, able to get a rough estimate of how many scenes I needed to write before the end of the challenge.  Divide that number by the number of days left and I had a pretty good understanding of how many scenes to write per day in order to finish the novel by day 30.

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