Tone of voice… you have probably heard this phrase used frequently, such as in “I don’t like your tone of voice.” As a child I often assumed that phrase was the adults’ way of reprimanding someone whose statement was not malicious or false, but brought up an inconvenient truth. In speaking, tone is typically associated with a certain timbre, pitch or intensity that expresses an attitude, such as amusement or distain, that is not noticeable if one only pays attention to actual words spoken.
But remember in writing we only have words – no audio to betray an underlying emotion. So how does one create tone? Recently, I discussed diction in writing (word choice/level of formality) and this is one of the key ways to create tone. It is especially effective if there is a seeming disparity between the diction and the content. Although most formal writing seems to be serious, it does not have to be. Consider the very formal tone of Daniel Defoe’s A Modest Proposal. Most students are smart enough to realize that Defoe was not serious about cannibalism. He was using the serious absurdity of a farce to make his point. One should not assume that informal, folksy diction, full of colloquialisms means a light-hearted tale either. It is the ability to use a diction that is somewhat unexpected for the theme that highlights tone as a way to create a unique voice in writing.
Which brings us to another characteristic of tone – the use of themes. Themes are abstract ideas – love, hate, wisdom, folly, etc. Try to imagine the concept of love or hate, and you will probably picture it as a relationship between two humans, or anthropomorphized creature (such as found the current fad of paranormal romances). Now, try to conjure up a similar scene (depicting either love or hate) without any characters. Difficult? Close to impossible. Characterization goes hand in hand with theme, because we see the intangibles in the characters as they respond in or react to love, hate, wisdom, folly, etc.
In an similar manner tone is also shown by the literary devices that the author uses. Most frequently the imagery is found in similes and metaphors. It does make a difference if the setting sun on the horizon is “red as a ruby” or” red as blood.” Imagery used skillfully sets the stage for events, with an emotional undercurrent. Finally, the main conflict of a story (fiction or fact) also contributes to exposing the author’s attitude. Is the foe to be conquered a danger river, a snobbish society, or personal flaw? Delve into the life of an author and you will typically find parallels. This is actually one of the reasons that adolescents struggle with portraying a unique voice in writing. They are not really sure that they want the rest of the world to know what they are really thinking.
Art work by S.L.Listman