Perhaps one of the most difficult elements of any piece of writing is the tone. Then again shouldn’t it be the easiest if you know your topic well enough? Let’s say you’re writing about someone dying and the effect it has on other characters. Surely, the tone would be more serious than funny, more melancholy than cheerful. Not so, I say. I’ve discovered during the process of writing two of my novels that tone can be incredibly easy and a lot more elusive than we would think.
When I sat down to write it, my novel Dissonance had its tone in-tact. It was obvious, easy, and I was able to carry it through the length of the novel without once thinking I had it wrong. The rewrite didn’t change it either; it merely refined what I already had. It was a NaNoWriMo novel as was Glitch. I, on the other hand, cannot settle on a tone for Glitch (2015’s NaNoWriMo novel) even though they both have the same premise: something absolutely terrible happens to a loved one of the protagonist, who then has to deal with the aftermath. With about five pages left to read, I don’t know what it is, or should be, what it’s trying to say, if anything at all, or even who the main character should be. I’ve never had this much trouble pinning down the tone of anything I’ve written, not even my Bay Window story from when I was 10 or 11.
There were a few times while reading Glitch that I thought, “Ah! There it is. That’s what I’m going for!” to only have it flipped on its head a few pages later. I wonder if I’ll be able to figure it out by the end of those five pages. Or if, as seems most likely, I’ll finish confused, set it aside for months, and pray for a miracle some day.
In lieu of playing the waiting game, I’m going to try one or all of these:
- Turn the melancholy into laugh-out-loud funny
- Make my antagonist the hero
- Make a secondary character the lens through which the reader sees everything
- Subvert all assumptions I had for the plot and do the exact opposite
If, after doing all of those, I still haven’t determined the tone, I’ll set it aside and wait.
What do you do when searching for lost tone?