What is tone? And, why are houses so big?
Man, houses are crazy. My cardio has tripled since moving out of the travel trailer and having to climb up and down stairs. I peed in three different toilets yesterday. I lost Jordan for a few minutes. I could hear her voice, but I couldn't see her. I thought perhaps she was finally revealing herself to be an illusion, having never actually existed outside of my own imagination (which-- when you think of someone like her agreeing to be with someone like me-- really checks out). Turns out she was just in the third bedroom.
Houses are crazy. They're also big. Even the ones that aren't big, are still big. Our house is somewhere around 1,500 square feet. Not exactly a mansion. But considering we only had enough stuff to fit in a 144 square foot camper, the house seems eerily empty. It looks like a murder house with plenty of space to put down plastic tarpaulins. On the plus side, the acoustics are rock solid.
Enough about houses (they're big and crazy, if you haven't heard). On to the news. No, not that news. Writing news! Blackstone Publishing officially accepted my second manuscript, River, Sing Out, and had some very kind things to say about it. For those who are new to the blog, I signed a three-book deal with Blackstone earlier this year. That deal included my first manuscript, All Things Left Wild, and the rights to my next two manuscripts. However, Blackstone still reserves the right to say, "nah, brah," if they don't like the manuscripts I send them. Meaning, I was quite nervous that the first story was a fluke and I'd somehow duped my agent, my publishers, my editor, etc. into thinking I was a writer, when I'm so obviously not a writer and never will be, because my writing is trash and I have nothing worth saying and everyone is better than me.
Turns out, I've fooled them again.
Part of my worry (aside from the aforementioned "my writing is trash"), was that the second manuscript is such a departure from the first. All Things Left Wild is set in 1910 in the southwestern desert and mountains. River, Sing Out is set in modern-day East Texas. And even though the former is not exactly the feel-good book of the year, the latter deals with some dark shit: meth, dog fighting, prostitution (not the fancy Nevada kind), etc.
Alas, everything worked out, due in large part (I'm assuming) to the similar tone of both novels. It took me a while, I know, but I finally got to the point of the blog. What is tone, and how do you create it, or manipulate it, or use it to tell your story?
Tone is a literary device used to create mood. Tone comes from the author, while mood is something produced in the reader. I've blogged about setting, which is another tool used alongside tone to create mood. So what is my tone? I don't know. There's light and humorous (what I usually try to evoke in these blogs), skeptical, optimistic, removed, and a host of other tones that I can point out in other works from other writers. But for whatever reason, I can't pinpoint my own. Perhaps writing mirrors self in that way. It is much easier to define others, whether it's their flaws or their positive attributes, than it is to define ourselves.
Even if you can't define exactly what your tone is, you can usually "feel" what you're going for as a writer. So, how do you get readers to come to those same feelings? Imagery, syntax, language, diction, are all tools you can use to create tone, create that feeling, whatever it may be. For example, here's an early line from my second manuscript:
"The sun set and the world died another small death and those upon it the same and all growing closer to what ends may be met. The boy watched the darkness spread as the hills before him turned from shadow to black and the red hued colors of the horizoned sky took a last smoldering gasp and disappeared into the stale grey of dusk."
All that's happening here is a boy is watching a sunset. That doesn't sound so bad. Could be quite lovely. But through the imagery and language (tone) provided, we get a much more sinister, almost depressed feeling. Bam. That's the mood. Class dismissed. See y'all soon.
Until then, go read something,