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January 2nd, 2004, 10:15 AM
I'm having a problem with tone/mood in this novel. It's pretty fresh, and I'm not sure what direction I want to take the middle 100 pages. Also, the characters aren't set in stone. How do people manage tone in their works? Usually, I don't have a problem with it, but this particular project started with a singular tone in mind, and now it has branched out beyond that and I'm not sure if I want to follow the new direction or the original plan.


January 3rd, 2004, 03:20 PM
At first, I was like why in the world worry about that when doing the draft ms. Then I remembered I'd wrestled with the same problem myself, on a project I might mention is now sitting on the shelf, stuck. The issue of tone can possibly mess up your ability to write a story, especially if you were going for a particular tone and find yourself headed in another direction.

In my case, I had deliberately underdeveloped the world culture beforehand, so that it would be fresh for me. But I found in this case, that approach made it difficult to figure out what people might then say to each other, might think, do with their hands, etc. The culture of the storyworld, whether fantastical, futuristic or every day, can have a big effect on the atmosphere and feel of a story. Another contributing problem was that I was shifting into the traditional British village mode, which was not what I had originally wanted and was causing the characters not to gel very well.

Of course, sometimes the opposite is true and the fact that your tone changes is not a bad thing but a natural outgrowth of the story. Trying to force the story back to the original mood might then be detrimental. It's figuring out what you're dealing with that is the hard part. You have to look at your goals for the story, if you have any, the characters as portrayed so far, the plot structure, and so on, to piece where things went north and whether that's good or bad for you.

Most atmosphere (tone, mood, what have you,) in a story comes from two sources: the setting (conveyed by descriptive imagery,) and the characters -- their thoughts, emotions, words and actions. But it can also come from the plot -- a tense conflict for the fate of a space station might produce a different tone than people fighting over a nice big ruby. And worse, tone can change within a story to accomplish several goals. Take for instance the movie "Pirates of the Carribean," by and large a comic film in tone. But it has within it dramatic or horrific scenes and the struggle between the two pirate captains is emotionally serious. Changing the tone can be just a matter of adjusting a few lines or it might require a whole redesign of the plot.

So really, it is a tough issue. The only thing I can think of to suggest is to rewrite a chapter trying to make it more in the tone you were originally going for, and then assessing whether that works better or worse for you.

January 3rd, 2004, 10:15 PM
I think I might rewrite either a chapter or a few scenes here and there (I have about 100 pages, which I wrote for Nano, so it was truly "on the fly" writing. No time for backstories, setting, etc., so it was totally character-driven).

Also, thinking back on the books I've read... a lot of them don't have a strong sense of tone/mood. One novel that I hold up pretty high for having a consistent "flavor" is Jeff Noon's "Vurt." Though the book was more/less serious in certain places, it always had the same feel to it. I've discovered that for me, it's not plot, but the "feel" of a story that's important, so it's important for me to try to start writing with that in mind.


January 5th, 2004, 07:17 PM
I haven't read "Vurt," but I have encountered many authors who use different tones. Comic authors tend to rely on it. Neil Gaiman is famous for his slightly dark, dreamy atmospheres with comic sidebits. George R.R. Martin apparently is considered to be starkly realistic in his work. Ursula LeGuin is known for the earnestness of her works, etc. It has a little something to do with an author's voice, though I feel authors can adjust their voice depending on what sort of project they are working on. It certainly is a useful support element in a story if nothing else, and sometimes the atmoshpere of a story can play a principle role in the story, so if it's very important to you, it's probably something you should hash out as it may lead to everything else.

January 5th, 2004, 09:56 PM
I'm having trouble replying to this thread, mainly because I'm not sure where your problem lies.

There's content, and there's the language that conveys the content. So, when you're creating a story you have two principle means to set the mood of a story.

1. Via the content: Plot, Setting, Characters.

2. Via the language: narrator (poetic, cynic, solemn...)

The two can be at odds to produce a "special effect" (e.g. J.G.Ballard's "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race", which is just what the title implies, and works because of the tension between 1. and 2.).

So where's your problem? Are your characters misbehaving, rebelling about your idea? Is your narrator naughty, wanting to make snide remarks about the solemn things you've in store for your characters? Or do you just feel it might be a good idea to change the plan, but your characters won't comply, thinking it's not worth the bother?


Personally, I don't think much about tone on the contents-level. That pretty much comes straight from the story. I'm interested in a topic, so I just create a situation that is fit to explore it.

I do sometimes think about tone on the language level. What attitudes are possible towards that topic? How do I express them? Currently, I'm writing something with a 3rd person narrator, who's a somewhat detached story teller when bridges between scenes are needed, and an empathic story teller in scenes, taking the point of view of a character. This results in a juxtaposition of different tones. For example, the sentence "He did the honorable thing," will have a different meaning, depending on wether we're treated to the paladin's or the rogue's point of view.