Tyra Tanner

Toneful Writing

Oi! What do I mean by “toneful” writing? Why did I just create this adjective that spellcheck tells me isn’t a word? Because to me, tone makes the difference between stale writing and writing that sings with voice and energy. Tone is the word for that magical jump from plain old boring English to language that evokes emotion. I will go so far as to say that the tone of a story is, in fact, its soul.

Here’s my example. I’ve got a man, he’s walking down the street, and we don’t know yet where he is going or why. I’m gonna write it four times with four different attempts to create a certain tone. Here goes:

Attempt 1: AKA: “I lack a tone altogether & therefore, my readers don’t feel anything & are wondering what kind of story this is.”
“Jon walked down the street. The sky was clear but for a stray cloud near the horizon. The street smelled of car exhaust, though every step or two, Jon caught a whiff of the rose garden that bordered the neat row of houses to his right. He moved purposefully onward, a destination in mind but not in sight. His briefcase nudged the side of his leg as he looked both ways before crossing the street.”

Attempt 2: AKA: “This is a slasher/horror story and at any moment now, a gooey monster from the planet Erachnicky will jump out from behind the rosebushes and our protagonist will get eaten.”
“Jon eyed the darkening sky as he hurried down the street. A lone wisp of cloud hung near the horizon like a spear pointed towards him. The gangly bushes to his right cast long shadows across his face. An unpleasant scent simmered among the rose aroma, something rancid, animalistic, and hungry. Jon quickened his pace, his heart pounding, and wondered if he would make it there in time.”

Attempt 3: AKA: “Jon is in luuuuv. Super in luuuuv.”
“Jon skipped as he made his way down the street. The sun shone brightly but for a wisp of cloud that threatened to darken his path, though it could not dampen his mood. The perfume of roses graced his nose, blocking out the unpleasant odor of the passing cars. He considered plucking a rose for Laura, but he stayed his hand. With such joy in the air, he couldn’t bear the thought of ripping one from its stem.”

Attempt 4: AKA: “Jon is a detective in a mystery novel.”
“Jon added up the details as he trod down the street. The cars with their puffing exhaust. The damn cloud blocking the light. The roses bloomed to ripeness, their aroma assaulting him as he tried to account for what was missing. He’d considered every angle, and yet, he knew there was a hidden key to solving the puzzle. Would one more walk through the place it occurred make a difference?”

Word choice is key to tone. When wanting to create a certain tone, look to your verbs and adjectives to do the job for you. Are the rays of the sun beaming softly from above? Or is the heat of the sun striking upon your flesh like ash and flame?

Here’s an example from one of my short stories, “The Voice Catcher.” In this passage, I attempted to use tone to make Tin Vale seem like an unpleasant place to be while attempting to make the forest (where my character was not supposed to go) seem pleasant by comparison.

“A haze descended upon Tin Vale. Or maybe the haze was from within me, but the muddy streets and smoky air left an unease in my gut and a sour taste in my throat. I wandered the empty paths at night, circling the edge of the city and staring into the dull horizon. Colorless by day and night, the city seemed like a shadow or a foggy dream.
Unlike the Vale, the forest was color and life. Ever since I’d answered it, the trees sung their thoughts to me day after day as I wrapped their cousins in tin and watched them die.”

So that’s my attempt to show what “toneful” writing means and to demonstrate how it can help writers create the scenes and evoke the emotions they want their readers to experience.

So go at it.

Toneful, baby!