Five tips for changing the tone of a piece of writing. I myself might not have used all of them recently, but I will certainly take a lot into account the next time I rewrite the tone of one of my pieces.
1. Keep it lively. Even if the piece is a really serious drama or a murder story, you want your first page, your first paragraph- your first line- to catch the reader’s eye. They probably know all the clichés, all the ‘it was a brisk summer’s day’ stuff, and they want something new. By ‘lively’, I mean verbally eye-catching but certainly relevant.
2. Tone is not just voice. Tone is affected by everything: characters, setting, voice- and thus, you need to get all of that into the first page. There’s no point spending half a page on introduction to setting and scene when all your reader wants to do is begin to relate to your character(s). Conversely, placing a character on a blank page, a place with no clear setting, can really irritate the reader. The tone must accomplish summing up both options.
3. Hook, hook, hook! Not much more to say for this point than that. The tone is nothing if the first sentence is dull; the two work together, whilst they can also contrast each other to augment. A ‘happily-ever-after’ tone might seem dull in principle for the beginning, but if the content, the hook, is something eye-catching, then the tone takes on a whole new meaning. A recent mismatch of ideas that worked was the Disney film Tangled, a twist on the Rapunzel tale.
4. Be innovative. Think up something cool and original to begin with. I think this applies more to YA and young readers, but readers want not to be faced with the same ideas and the same layout. Tying in with point 1), you need to rid yourself of clichés and thinking outside the ‘charactorial’ box. Of course, as I said, the tone must have some relevance to the main plot, even if it starts off with an expected theme for the book. (This, I find, is good for the classical Murder Mystery genre!)
One of my favourite beginnings I’ve read recently was on the Teens Can Write, Too! blog, written by an unpublished teen:
“I’ve been considering different ways to kill people without leaving any evidence,” I told my best friend, Tasha. “It can’t be that hard, right? As long as you plan carefully?”
For a teen-love drama story, the first sentence catches the eye and sticks in the mind as something different.
5. Think teen. Obviously not something relevant if you’re not writing for Young Adults- but the point I am making is that, of course, audience is vital for what the tone will be like. One thing I think I failed to grasp in my former introduction was that I was writing for people my age, who would not want (even if I did) to read some philosophic exposition in the first chapter, let alone the first sentence! No teen cares what the land is like. They want to see a character they can relate to instantly, with spunk and issues, just like a real person.
So…I hope this will help anybody stuck on how to begin rewriting, especially of the tone of a piece.