If reading isn't dangerous, why ban books? Why was illiteracy so popular when the Christian church ruled the western world? Reading gives you ideas, makes you think, challenges you perception. Dangerous stuff right there, those in power prefer ignorance in the masses, and writers are the vanguard of freedom of the mind.

Still, there is a reasonable line of too dangerous, when you just have to say "fuck it, censorship got it right!

Now we've all heard the reading-is-fundamental spiel, but we're in the master class of life. The danger of reading here is actually a common danger writers face: when you read various other books in the middle of your project, or ask for advice/input piecemeal from many critics, your tone becomes uneven.

Uneven tone: when combined with hair product it becomes the most evil property in the universe

In reality, projects take time. Off and on over 5 years I wrote my first novel Case Of The Missing Millionaire, and even then it took me 5 "sweep" edits (skimming over when grammar & spelling has been attended to, just making sure it flows smoothly and feels even & paced) to make it feel even. A big part of it comes from the fact I started writing it as a married 25 year old Division VP of Finance and finished as a 30 year old divorced starving artist. Big life changes meant big narration changes.

Tone is not purely narration, but it does involved it. Think of it this way: speed is how fast you're going, vectors are how fast you're going + what direction. In writing, your voice is how you write, the words you choose. Tone is is that plus your settings, balance of narrative & description, and how the environment influences your characters and vice-versa.

Confused? Excellent! I couldn't explain it perfectly because even I don't quite understand it fully, no one does, and that's why everyone's Tone is different, even the Tones of different books with the same author. For any textbooks that define term, well, think if it this way. Think back to Sex-Ed and how sex itself was described. Compare it to the real thing. Aren't you glad you didn't have to pay for public school now?

Because learning this was more helpful than any of the Kama Sutra. Thanks, Teach.

Tone is most adversely affected by reading other stories, watching movies, or discussing writing with other writers. I started thinking on this as I started reading and re-reading romance novels while writing my erotic romance. Now, I'm not a fan of romance novels per se (I do enjoy erotic romance) but I do know one thing: I am as romantic as an evening watching travel slides from George W. Bush's various vacations. However, fiction is about fantasies.

And so I read them: bodice-rippers, time-travel, modern, humorous, mystery, erotic, Regency...my head is spinning! I consider this Tonal research. For me the biggest challenge is writing Alpha Males. If you haven't guessed it, I'm an Alpha Female. It's a myth in real life we like Alpha Males. Every time I date one we end up drinking beer, arm wrestling, and watching action movies. I like Beta Males personally, give me the nurturers who let me take the lead any day. And in real life most women should go for Beta Males, they make the best fathers and partners. Besides, most self-proclaimed Alphas are really just assholes looking for an excuse.

This is an example of the challenge of tone. Obviously I could never get any publisher to enjoy a romance novel where I poo-poo Alpha males, and espouse the many joys of the Beta male. It doesn't work. If you want to know off-putting that tone is, in a previous unedited serial-form of Wolf Tales I: The Claiming I have a literal werewolf Alpha female and werewolf Beta male coming together. I may curse like a sailor, but I'm not repeating most of the original comments here, suffice it to say, it jarred the masses. Tone incorporates your view of the story, and the characters' views of each other and the story. We'll pick on romance novels because, honestly, they're the easiest thing to write, and one of the hardest things to write well.
 
The sad truth of said novels: romance heroes don't exist. If you know that and enjoy them, you've found a good balance to your sanity. Men have it bad too, the archetypal nymph in pornography doesn't exist. Women who look like that and are that promiscuous tend to have actual nymphomania, a condition where a person cannot achieve orgasm and yet engages in compulsive sexual behavior, a special kind of hell. But we like fantasies, so men watch their insatiable whores, and we have our prince charmings. Kind of explains the divorce rate, doesn't it?

This is the image that should be plastered on every  Sex-Ed class wall

Now back to Tone. You can see we're dealing with romance novels, but you can extrapolate this to most writing. Remember Tone is comprised of many things, so here's a list for what Tone should convey in a romance novel:

  1. 1st or 3rd person narration. Never, ever try for 2nd in a romance novel
  2. Consistent sensuality of perception. How the weather or settings effect the hormones of the characters should be the same at the start, middle, and end
  3. Word choice - if you use big words during one person's implied perspective, keep it up unless they have brain trauma. If you want to use it to show a character growing mentally, pace it appropriately
  4. The goals of the characters should remain the same throughout the story, though facets can be added to or subtracted to as the character develops. This is why my character-sheet has a space to state their goals of the story, as well as their overall life ambitions
  5. Balance of dialogue/narration- quiet characters shouldn't randomly be given to long speeches unless they're on caffeine or other mind-altering substances
  6. Favoritism of characters- your naration should be sympathetic to your protagonists when they deserve it, and if you ever have sympathy for the antagonist it must be something ultimately revealed to the protagonists
  7. Your moral judgments should be even. If clearly you condemn crass sexuality for your protagonists, don't celebrate it in other characters. If your narration shows a distaste for gossip, keep the habit to secondary characters or the antagonist, anyone we shouldn't be sympathizing with
  8. Logic should hold. Don't have the characters break the laws of physics are you previously presented them, then cover it with ye old "a wizard did it." If they can fly or time-travel, explain how it's done at the start. No character should ever go from being a pragmatic person to a whirlwind of intuition...unless on mind-altering drugs
 
In short, you are the God of the world you create and it has to make sense. If you want an enjoyable experience reading a great example of how uneven tone makes a book awful, read Improper English by Kate MacAlister. Now, that book is even; contemporary, and humorous; it's an enjoyable romance. Our heroine, however, is writing a regency romance. Most chapters begin with a small view of how her story is going,..and it's awful.


Our Heroine, Alix, reads 1 chapter at a time to strangers and friends. Whatever advice they give her, she applies to that chapter only. Of course the end result is hideous, purple, and disjointed. She fixes it when she realizes the problem, but along the way she's quite hilariously outspoken and idiosyncratic, and it's not a bad love story for a more traditional romance...though the hero seems to be made of wood at some points and not all that well-developed.

This is why you never ask for criticism until it's finished. And when you write you should keep your eye on an even Tone, but truly this comes to the forefront when you edit. I call it "sweep editing," the process when you're not picking apart the finished product line by line or word by word (that's already been done) but now you're re-reading it to make sure it makes sense, the tone is even, and the pacing is good.

Since conflict is the single easiest way to fuck up Tone and continuity, it makes sense to follow Monday's post with this one. Lately I've been writing a lot for the writers, Friday I promise to write something for the readers in us all.