Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tone in fiction

I'm thinking about tone now, because I'm teaching a Scenes class, and tone is important in scenes. But... but what IS tone? It's not voice. It's not character. It's not plot. Related to all those, surely.

I'm thinking tone is more about effect-- the mood this is meant to create in the reader, and everything that goes into creating that mood is tone.

What do you think? Examples? Ideas? How is it different from voice? Help! Is there a corollary in music?

I'm going to make a list of tones I've found in book lately. I'd say there's usually a connection to sub-genre (that is, you wouldn't have a rollicking tone in a suspense novel), but I'm not entirely sure how one-to-one that is, if there's really only one basic tone per sub-genre. Anyway, types of tone-- are these too "individual" for use in explanation? Any to add?
Inquisitive
Rollicking
Thoughtful
Ponderous
Slapstick
Wry
 Rambunctious
Slow
Quiet
 Tense
Intense
Excruciating
Suspenseful
Comedic
Intellectual
Emotional
Restrained
Dignified
Haughty
Adventurous
Risky
Spooky
Conversational
Argumentative
Cautious
Legalistic
Carefree
Joyous

As I type those, I realize that I'm trying to capture in a word the -experience- of the books I'm thinking of. That is, when I think about, say, the Charles Paris mystery I just read, it's a "wry" experience-- humorous but understated and ironic.
Alicia

Thoughts? Additions? Examples? Arguments?

3 comments:

SolariC said...

Interesting post! I always find it fascinating to reflect on the elements of any specific work of fiction.

If I had to answer your question, I'd say that voice and tone differ in what they relate to. Voice I think comes from the personality of the character whose point of view is featured, while tone comes from the atmosphere of the work.

However, I think I would distinguish between tone and mood more than you did. If I had to define them, I guess maybe tone is more variable throughout the work, whereas mood is the effect left by the entire work. Does that make sense to you? Because you can have a the tone of a scene be bright and cheerful, while the overall mood of the work remains subdued or even somber.

Anyway, just some thoughts. Thanks for getting me thinking about the subject with your post!

Alicia said...

I like that sense of "atmosphere".

I think that if the tone of a scene is a lot different than the mood of the book, I'd probably look at the scene and see if I want to impart some sense to its difference-- like this is a moment of refuge from the travail, or there's a slight edge to the end of the scene that suggests happiness can't last or you can't escape the overall grimness-- I'd want the difference itself to be meaningful. What do you think?
Alicia

Normandie Ward Fischer said...

Good points from both of you. My first thought on reading your post, Alice, was that just as individuals share complexities--never merely one of those characteristics in your list--so do books. So, I like SolariC's distinction between tone and mood, allowing diversity of tone/attitude within and between scenes and suggesting an overriding mood/atmosphere to the entire piece.