She says, wagging a finger. We all know how important tone is in everything we say. “How was your day?” can be as sincere or as sarcastic as a hug or a slap in the face. Writers know that one of the key elements that make our books ours is our voice. Readers know that a story can be made or broken for them just by the way the author chose to tell it. But how do you find your voice?
Know Your Arsenal
Tone, and its attendant stylistic construct, voice, are comprised of the storytelling techniques you use to turn the reader’s focus where you want it to go, and the words you choose to describe the elements of your readers’ focus. As a suburban mom, I live in the same world as say, a Navy Seal. But the tone of my life focuses on rediscovering the wonder of life through my childrens’ eyes, and rediscovering the dangers of it for someone who’s not yet fully grown or experienced enough to understand that the fourth graders on the bus are most definitely not a better source of information than your mother. The tone of that Navy Seal’s life focuses on missions, threat degrees, chains of command, and survival. I enter a place and I look around to find emergency exits, bathrooms, and water fountains. The Navy Seal enters a place and looks for vantage points, cover, and blind corners.
Your Navy Seal isn’t going to be admiring the cute safari-animals print on that other parent’s stroller, he’s going to be noticing the furniture to take cover behind and return fire in case of an attack. But then again, your suburban mom might notice long before him that the cute safari-animals print of the stroller is in danger because the two year old’s sippy cup lid is on crooked.
Choose Your Weapon
Your story’s tone comes through what your characters notice about their world, but also in the choices you make as an author for how to describe it. You can find your voice in granularity–is the night sultry or seething? Is your hero polished or slick? The words you choose to use in description are as telling of the tone of your story as they are about your characters or elements in your plot.
Ready, Fire, Aim
You can slave over individual word choice, and sweat out the difference between the evocative and the provocative as you go. But for many of us, that sweat is just as well spent after we have a concrete picture of the story we’re trying to tell. There are writers who will labor over the exact perfect word choice for every single word of their first chapter, and fifteen years later, be ready to start thinking of chapter 2. You have to tell a story in order to find your voice, and you have to tell the whole story in order to find its tone. If you can’t quite find the rightest, most bestest word, move on for now and revisit in revision.
Practice Makes Perfect
Finally, your voice is the voice of experience. You will never learn more about your voice–the truths you want to express about the human condition–unless you give it a podium and a microphone in the form of writing stories. Plural. You have to practice to find out your favorite ways to say something. You have to use words to get used to using them. They’re your tools, your brushes and paints, and if you don’t practice wielding them, you’ll be too preoccupied with holding them to let them do the work they’re supposed to do.
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She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.