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The Art of Storytelling: Setting the Tone

The problem that most self-published authors have is the hard core focus on achieving a particular word count ( I see it all the time on both my Facebook and Instagram feeds of authors shouting from the rooftops, "Hit that 10k today! Let's get it! On my way to 60k!) and as much we like to celebrate the fact that we are getting closer towards our goals, completing a manuscript with repetitive verbiage or "filler" words will leave you with 50+ plus words and an empty manuscript.

All "Setting the Tone" refers to is the "attitude your writing employs" (please see: Tone in Writing: What It Is and How to Create Different Tones in Writing ( This means that the word choice, the actions and scenarios created, punctuation (if someone is wailing or demonstrating a high level of emotion, consider what you would use to reflect that: an exclamation point, a period, a hyphen even? Ask yourself that question as you write out the scene) invoke an emotion in the reader and by setting the tone, you provide the reader some insight on the direction your story is headed towards; it creates an emotional shift in the story, for better speaking.

The key to figuring out the tone is to ask yourself "what kind of story am I writing?" "What genre is this? Romance? Horror? General Fiction? Nonfiction?" Now of course, depending on the genre of your work, the tone may change moment to moment. It all depends on the direction of your character(s) and in the case of nonfiction, the tone is usually considered "informal" being that information is being provided to the reader (of course, in nonfiction works, author biasness is what would be discussed. I may cover that in a later blog.) There are fictional tales where there is a dominant tone, such as the case of Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. From my perspective, the word choice that came to my mind at the thought of that story was dark or depressive. I did a quick Google search (gotta give the credit where it is due) to see what others had to say about the tone of that story and the commenter said, "The narrator's tone in 'The Tell-Tale Heart' can be described as agitated, defensive and manic" (see about Tell-Tale Heart) and according to Teen Ink website from a 2018 article, the commenter said, "Poe gets this mood to the reader using a depressing tone, one seen in many of his works. His dark writing style is reflected through the dark and depressing tones he uses, to get similar moods across the readers."

What mood(s) are you hoping to inspire from your readers? Is the goal to make them laugh or cry their way throughout the story? Or are you hoping to take them on an emotional rollercoaster that will leave them winded, exhausted but pleasantly pleased by the time the reach the closing statement of your book? As a matter of fact, to better understand tone setting, think about the books that you read and which stories triggered a particular emotional response or even mood. Go back to those books and review the sentence structure, grammar choices, and the overall scenes that created your emotional response.

Until next time...

Keep writing.

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