Monday, October 6, 2014

Watch Your Tone


One issue I have with email and texting is that you can't always interpret the sender's tone. It's usually difficult to judge inflection and emotion unless the sender adds emoticons or a longer explanation. Have you ever received an email or text that seemed aloof or impatient? While email and texts serve their purpose, they aren't always the best way to communicate. 

Writing on the other hand, can provide a better avenue for us to employ an appropriate, reader friendly tone. One definition for tone is how our writing feels, sounds, and is interpreted. It may form through word choice, sentence structure, and a writer's attitude and style. The writer’s tone can be sarcastic, serious, humorous, sad, or a combination of these and other qualities. I believe that tone factors into a writer’s voice.

When discussing tone with my teen writing students, I have them consider an exercise where they imagine two actors trying out for a part. Each actor’s only line is to say the other actor’s name two times. 

"Patrick?"

"Clarabelle?"

"Patrick!"

"Clarabelle!" 

Then I have them repeat the exercise and ask what it would sound like if Patrick and Clarabelle were afraid or surprised, angry, confused, or happy. I ask students then to consider how the characters communicated each emotion.  

We may not always directly consider tone during the process, but it does factor into the mix. The revision process can help us assume the correct tone for our writing.

When in doubt regarding tone (and other details) before I submit, I rely on:
  • Considering the audience and publication
  • A second opinion from critique partners
  • Reading my work aloud to better hear how it is "heard"

Do you consider tone as you write? How do you think others view your writing tone?

Happy writing,
Karen


Photo credit: Stock Exchange

26 comments :

  1. I probably don't focus enough on tone. That, like character voice, is something I struggle with. Sounds like you've created a challenging exercise for your students to spotlight this.

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  2. Reading it aloud is a good idea. Helps to spot sucky dialogue as well.

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  3. Natalie,
    I don't always either, and I need to watch it more. It can be a challenge with the characters. :)

    Alex,
    Reading aloud, especially slowly, really helps me a lot for both fiction and non fiction. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  4. That's a good exercise for the kids.

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  5. I find shifts in tone really annoying in books. I don't think writers pay enough attention to it. Glad you posted this today.

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  6. I need to pay more attention to the tone of my writing. Writing devotions and Christian essays needs to convey the right spirit.

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  7. Diane,
    It makes them think, that's for sure. Most have not considered tone in this way. :)

    Lee,
    I do too. Try to stay as consistent as possible when I write, and depend heavily on critique partners to lend a hand. :)

    Cecelia,
    That's a great point. Writing devotions can be harder than one might think! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  8. I'd say your writing students have a great instructor! Many of us didn't think much about tone until further along in our writing journeys. Still trying to get a handle on it, but do keep it in mind in all my writing projects :-)

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  9. What a great lesson! It does show why tone can get confused. I agree with you about texts and emails- it is very easy to misread the tone. I heard a great tip from a friend. When reading an email that comes across as snippy or rude- change the tone you are reading it with to upbeat and happy. When you reply you will have a happier tone and most likely the other person will respond with a similar tone.. :)

    I do try to keep tone in mind when writing. Reading aloud helps me a lot- and other eyes too! :)
    ~Jess

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  10. Great exercise for students of any age. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Hi Karen! When I started writing, I heard a lot about 'establish your own voice' which sound the tone you are talking about. I had no idea what that was. Now that I am a little further along, I see how important it is to establish that tone. I hope people see it as inviting and down to earth. I don't really know how others see it. Good question!

    Your tone is very warm and encouraging. And slow. I don't ever get the feeling that you are rushing or feel anxious. That's a nice tone to have!
    Blessings,
    Ceil

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  12. I think you may be an instructor, my friend. And a great one! Excellent exercise for your students.

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  13. Excellent point. I always read manuscripts out loud during the editing phase.

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  14. Great exercise, Karen, for showing the variations. I use body language to convey tone, i.e. crossed arms, raised brows, wide eyes, taut lips, etc. Reading aloud is helpful too, as you said, though I'm guilty of skipping this step when I'm in a hurry.

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  15. Kenda,
    Aww, thank you! :) You know, I don't think about it all the time, but I do know it factors in. I think as long as we give it consideration we're on the right track.

    Jess,
    I love that advice! I am going to have to remember that and try it. Makes you see things from a different perspective. :)

    Linda,
    It's so simple yet makes such a great point. Good to see you! :)

    Ceil,
    I was thinking that a post on voice might be a good topic one of these days. I think sometimes writers stress so much on finding their own that they miss the point of writing and just being yourself. I think it develops over time, you know? Thanks for your sweet and kind words. :)

    Rhonda,
    You are a sweetheart. Thanks for the vote of confidence my friend. I cannot remember if I came up with the idea on my own or saw it somewhere, but it really does work well. :)

    Medeia,
    Thank you! Thanks too, for reviewing my book! :) Reading aloud helps so much, doesn't it?

    Lisa,
    This exercise is a favorite of mine because it is so easy yet makes a wonderful point. Body language is a great way to show the reader. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  16. My last stage when editing is reading aloud.

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  17. I'm on the same page as Editors. I (almost) always read aloud to judge tone among other crucial elements. Often I don't' get very far and I'm re-writing immediately. It helps so much when you're trying to convey just exactly what's in your head. Nice post, Karen.

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  18. Hi Karen .. I try and keep an upbeat timbre with my own voice ... but I do judge comments and sometimes think people aren't thinking ... common I suppose ... great thoughts here .. cheers Hilary

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  19. Nas,
    I'm hearing more and more writers saying this very thing. It's a good tool to use. :)

    Hilary,
    I think you do have an upbeat tone and flavor about your blog. It's friendly and encouraging, and it's always a treat to stop by your space. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  20. Great read, Karen. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Sorry I'm late, Karen. It's a long story. As for tone, I think it's essential. And yes, I've received test or two from someone and it did sound short. I don't text much for that reason. I just keep up with where and what my sons are doing.

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  22. Jen,
    Thanks for coming over to see us! :) Always glad to see you, and appreciate your input.

    Joylene,
    Always good to see you too! And don't apologize, ever. I'm not exactly the poster child for getting to others' blogs in a timely manner. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  23. I try to consider my tone because I've had a few e-mail conversations go awry and that's uncomfortable for everyone involved. Although I may not be a fan of emoticons or exclamation points in formal writing, I use them more often in comments and e-mails because I hope that if I miss with my words that the emoticon or exclamation will help keep the tone a little lighter. :) . . . not sure it works, but I keep trying.

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  24. Tyrean,
    Yes, same here. And same to the emoticons and exclamation points. I don't like to use them as a rule, but will more with texts and emails to make sure my point comes across in a friendly way. :) Like that! lol

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  25. I've enjoyed reading all the comments. I read my work aloud too so I can see how it sounds. Not always the way I want!!

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  26. Terri,
    I know, it's interesting to hear about other writers' processes, isn't it? My words don't always sound the way I want right away either. :)
    Happy writing,
    Karen

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Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your input. Have a blessed day!