December 22, 2011

Tone in Writing, Part One: Does it Attract or Repel?

Posted in Tone, writing techniques tagged , at 1:28 pm by Rebecca Hein

Tone in writing is like tone in music: it either attracts or repels. I’ve sat through many solo recitals where I couldn’t wait to get out because of the performer’s rasping or edgy tone. Conversely, I’ve been transfixed by the pure, clear sound in an otherwise less-than-perfect performance.

Writers, in facing this problem, have to first learn to listen for tone. Next, you need to be aware that tone is not just a matter of listening and practice, but is also a product of what’s inside you.



  1. John Edminster said,

    Thank you so much for this, Becky! I easily forget that an angry, prideful or anxious spirit can make my words repellent to my reader. Even though I’ve made a vow against hurtful speech I sometimes, to my shame, break it, sometimes openly but often in a veiled manner. How grateful I am to have a family that will call me on my subtle nagging and guilt-provoking!

    Our way of framing sentences can attract or repel; our choice of words can instantly make us friends or enemies, depending on what buttons we push in our audience. More and more, I’m finding it advisable to run my written words by a committee of oversight before releasing them to a wider world.

    • Rebecca Hein said,

      Yes; it’s always helpful to get feedback from a source(s) you trust.

  2. Tone is a matter of taste in many cases. The best prose, like the best musical composition, can be labelled as crap by somebody who hates that particular style. A person who loves Metallica most likely won’t react favourably to Bach. Since I march to a different drum machine, I’ll write what I’ll write. Somebody out there will like it, though there may be only a small number who do.

    • Rebecca Hein said,

      While acknowledging that tastes differ, there’s still the matter of caliber. Some novels, essays, stories, and plays are better than others.

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