Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Editor's Checklist for Revising Short Fiction: Tips on Tone

 There's a proverb that says don't muzzle the ox while he's in the field, meaning don't restrain those hard at work; let them finish the job. The same is true of short fiction. If you can write the first draft of the story in one sitting, do it. Before sending your work for possible publication revise using the next series of posts as a "preflight" checklist. Today's tip is on tone.

Tone tells a lot
Tone is created by the writer's prose to reveal his or her attitude toward the subject, and toward the audience. Tone can be formal or informal, intimate or distant, playful or serious. Generally, the tone of a piece should complement the subject and story. Think of tone in writing as you would tone of voice in speaking. Usually, when you're angry, you allow your voice to reflect that emotion. If you're angry and use a different tone of voice, it's for a reason, usually to hide the intensity of your feelings, or to heighten what you're saying by using a contrasting tone. The same principle works for writing.

Exercise: Select the opening paragraph from a story you're working on, and consider how a change in tone would affect the piece. To prime your writer's ear, change the verbs in the excerpt to reflect a different tone, for example, from anger to ironic, or from straight narrative to anger. Notice what the change in tone says about your attitude toward your subject or story, and toward the audience.

We'll discuss mood in the next post. Happy writing!

P/S: To take your writing to the next level, consider author Robert Olen Butler's dreamstorming technique as described in From Where You Dream. For more on dreamstorming and how to select the right details for your story, see writer and editor Jack Sheedy's blog, Sacred Bull.

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