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April 20th, 2006, 08:14 AM
Have you used multiple tones in one story- or do you prefer to have a single tone throughout. For example, the thing I'm pushing out now has two main characters. One of them is a pretty somber guy, while the other is more freewheeling. I find as I write this, the tone of the story changes with POV. I have yet to go back and read through what I've written so far (I refuse to do this until I finish my first draft), but I'm wondering if multiple tones have come out in your writing, or in stories you've read, and whether you liked it or not. On one hand, I think it helps give the reader a feel for each character- much like each character should speak differently, react differently, etc. On the other, I'm wondering if this will come across as disjointed.
Any thoughts?

April 20th, 2006, 12:06 PM
Tone should vary according to the character and action, so it's not at all unusual for it to change with POV. Desirable, in fact. Readers like to be entertained, and part of that is variety in a story's feel.

What is tone? I think tone is the most important effect in writing, but I suppose it's also one of those things that's difficult to define. I sort of think of it as the emotional feeling that is created in the reader's mind. At least, that's the goal. Sometimes it's overt, but I think tone is most effective when subtle. In that way, it's like the bass line in a piece of music. Great authors make excellent use of tone to underpin their stories. Part of it's style, dialogue, word choice, rhythm. One of my favorite authors is Jorge Luis Borges, and his tone is both unmistakeable and compelling. An example.


That short story has a consistent tone throughout, but I think tone shifts are necessary and welcome in a novel.

Other thoughts?


April 20th, 2006, 12:46 PM
I agree with ghostie. It only feels disjointed if you flash between tones within a short span without a significant and gripping reason

April 20th, 2006, 01:37 PM
Variation of tone is almost inevitable, since the same tone throughout a novel has different effects on different contexts.

If you're giving backstory info-dump style, you may use a detached style. This may come across as objective. If you later present a scene of emotional content, and use the same tone you used while delivering back story, it may come across as "callous", or worse "boring".

You've reminded me to pay more attention to tone in my current WIP.

April 20th, 2006, 03:31 PM
For purposes of this discussion, here are a few of my personal definitions. Let me know what you think:

Tone – The overall mood of a story. The feeling you’re trying to convey to a reader.
Voice – The way a character communicates to the reader. This encompasses the way the
characters speaks, how they view a situation.. how they react (?)
Style– How the piece is written..is it purple, is it sparse? The style of, say George RR Martin is vastly different from that of Raymond Chandler. As a result, I believe that genre dictates style to a certain degree.

Taking those into consideration, I believe the voice of my characters (depending on POV), should change more than the tone as a whole. Or rather, I hope it does. The current story could be generalized as “new weird”, I suppose, or perhaps “steampunk horror”. Saying I’m trying to scare the reader may set the bar to high for me, but I’d like to unnerve them. The tone, then, should be conducive to this.

However, I hope to also give the reader a real sense of these two characters (other stories are planned). As a result, I want to convey separate voices for each. The way I see it, you should know whose eyes you’re looking through, without repeating the character’s name time and again.

What would worry me about changing tone (as opposed to voice), throughout the story is that I would loose the horrific aspect of my story. Character A (whose name is Itto), has a very dark sense of humor. Character B (Lassiter) is a bit of a stiff, but not without humor. If they are both watching the same horrible act- Itto might laugh, because he’s got a sick sense of humor, while Lassiter might frown. However, the full implications and unsettling nature of what is going on is not lost.

On the other hand, if Itto describes a horrific event as some sort of slapstick act, while Lassiter sees it for the horror that it is, these are different tones, and might undermine the horrific intent of the story.

Hope I’m making myself clear.
Any thoughts?

April 20th, 2006, 04:52 PM
If it is something expected of your character, then you should let him/her express themselves, else you will be changing that char's personality. If his perception of an event will force you to change the tone you are trying to maintain, then change POV, probably to objective or whichever will be best suited to maintain your tone.

However, I still stand behind what I said earlier. Changing the tone in a story is ok, as long as it isn't too much and without focus. Just be sure the mood you are going for is the dominant one and the changes are just little pockets. Perhaps a little humor to lessen the main mood would work for a moment, enough to cause the reader to relax and then WHAM hit em with your big scare.

April 20th, 2006, 05:16 PM
Much clearer. :)

On the other hand, if Itto describes a horrific event as some sort of slapstick act, while Lassiter sees it for the horror that it is, these are different tones, and might undermine the horrific intent of the story.

What you say here reminds of Begnini's film La Vita é Bella. It's a comedy about father and son in a concentration camp; the Nazi's don't know about the son, and the Father pretends that it's all a game, and the boy has to hide, to win a prize. Of course, the boy hears rumours from the other prisoners. There's a scene where the son asks the father if it's true that the Nazis make soap and buttons out of the Jew's bones. In front of a lot of other prisoners the father calls this absurd, and jokes (giving his buttons names, etc.).

Most of the film is slapstick in tone; there are very few scenes where the tone gets serious, but these scenes are brief. The tone of the film is never depressing. Many people hate the film because of that; I loved it. To me, the film expressed the horror of WW2 much better than say Shindler's List.

The point is, as probably always, for some it works, for some it doesn't. If you want slapstick scenes to be horrific, you'll probably target a readership that appreciates irony.

Chances are, if it works for you, you'll find people for whom it works.