Okay, so I promised a post on tone last week and other things came up to post instead, so I’m only just now getting to it.
Now what prompted the idea for this post was dear hubby’s birthday last week, for which he received a copy of 300 on HD. Anyone who has not seen this movie, go rent it. You’ll feel like fighting the Persians alongside Leonidas within half an hour. And if you don’t, the eye candy is fabulous as well. But eye candy aside, it’s a fantastic example of a visual tone. Being based on a graphic novel, the scenery, the cinematography and camera work all reinforce the overall tone of the story. The entire movie is shot in this sort of dark imagery and lighting, which is logical for such a dark (if victorious) story.
Where am I going with this other than to point out hot Spartan eye candy? (ah…Gerard Butler….[slaps self]…focus woman, focus). I bring this up as a good visual illustration of what we all ought to be doing in our books. And that is, of course, maintaining a consistent tone.
Now some people would say that the tone ought to be consistent with the topic. In other words, a serious subject like murder or drugs or other crime ought to be dealt with in a suitably serious, dark or foreboding tone. I was one of them until I read my good friend Jen Hendren’s manuscript Faking It, in which she does a fabulous job taking what would have been potentially a run of the mill drug ring thriller and breathing new and very entertaining life into it with a voice and tone that is redolent of sassy chick lit. So I don’t think that the tone necessarily has to match the subject matter. But the tone should be consistent throughout the manuscript.
When I first started working with my crit partner, the draft of Houses of Cards I was working with had several long sections in it that were an attempt to give the setting some color and introduce the people that my heroine deals with on a daily basis. Pot kindly busted me on consistency of tone. She rightly pointed out that in the context of the already dark story I had set up, these chapters and scenes felt spliced in, as if they belonged to another story. This resulted in a 10-20k word cut right off the bat. And it really wasn’t all that painful because she was absolutely right (okay, maybe a little painful, but I saved them and can maybe use them in another piece someday). The thing about writing long fiction, particularly those of us who take longer to do it because we’re working the day job to pay the bills, is that it’s important for us to keep an eye on things like tone in the name of consistency so that in the end, our book feels like all of a piece, not something written in fits and starts. This is why I so strongly advocate writing some every day, even if it’s just a bit. It’s much easier to stay in character, so to speak, than if you just pick it up on weekends or every now and then. Everyone’s different, of course, but that’s what works for me.