A to Z Day 20: Tone

Tone is all about how an author treats the subject of a text and the audience. The two most common categories for tone

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are “formal” and “informal,” but other words to describe it abound. “Solemn,” “friendly,” “sarcastic,” “condescending,” and “enthusiastic” are a few other examples.

Tone is sometimes confused or used interchangeably with mood; but they are different concepts. Tone is about the author’s attitude as expressed by things like diction, syntax, and point-of-view. Mood is about how a piece of writing affects the audience. So, tone has an influence on mood of a piece, and there are many words that can be used to describe both (somber, for example).

Many other aspects of a piece of writing can affect tone, including the amount of detail an author employs (see images), the sounds of the words themselves (see euphony), the level of specialization in the chosen vocabulary (see jargon), and the overall pace of the piece.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell exactly what sort of tone you’re setting, and sometimes different readers will read the same words and interpret their tone differently. For example, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish “passionate” from “angry.” The only way to really be sure about the tone of a piece of writing is to have other people read it and give you feedback.

 

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A to Z Day 19: Social

I think writing has a social component that isn’t emphasized enough, especially at the level of Sbasic fundamentals. I grew up thinking of writing as a solitary thing. The popular image of the writer hunched over a desk into the wee hours of the morning, not socializing for weeks on end, neglecting his family to pursue the craft, and so on, is culturally powerful.

That image has a solid factual basis. Much of writing is like that, and writers who are distant from social life because they are so driven to create are not difficult to find.

However, that image isn’t a complete picture. Many people will disagree with me, and some will no doubt say I’m in danger of adding marketing to the writing process. But this is what I believe. The part where you create a draft is only one part of writing. The process isn’t finished until you’ve made the decision to release a piece of work into the wild and found other people to read it.

That doesn’t mean only writers with large audiences are proper writers. It just means that, unless you’re writing in your personal journal, the whole point of creating a text is so that people can interact with it. I have a private metaphor I use for writing sometimes. It’s like painting in words, but the paper isn’t the canvas. Other peoples’ imaginations are the canvas.

It’s a good idea to have people read your drafts in progress, if you can find the right sort of reader for that. It’s also important to listen to feedback and think about it, whether the feedback is on a finished piece or on something in-process. Not all feedback is helpful, but a lot of it can be.

The periods in my life when I’ve made the most progress with my writing in the shortest amount of time were:

1. Junior and sophomore years in college. Those are the years I took 4 poetry and fiction workshops, which required me to produce regularly and sit quietly while other people critiqued my work when it was my turn. By then, I also had a lot of friends who were into writing and thought I could be pretty good at times, so I had plenty of people outside the classroom who I felt safe sharing my work with.

2. Second and third years as a small-town newspaper editor. I was an experienced reporter by the time I got my first job editing. I spent the first year learning about administration and advertising, and the second two redesigning and improving the paper I worked for. During the second year I started getting reader comments on a lot of my stuff, and plenty of them were just negative. But a lot were helpful. Again, being forced to write every day and listen to a ton of feedback are the two things I credit for my improvement.

3. Graduate school. I didn’t do the graduate work in English, but I did choose a writing-intensive discipline. So, no workshops, but at that level, the student-to-instructor ratio is good and I was fortunate enough to find a program with a lot of professors who were interested in helping students improve their skills. The same principles apply here, and I think these are enough examples to make my point.

I went with this topic instead of the original one because I think the social element of writing is just that important. This is the conclusion of a sort of miniseries that Started with Q and continued with yesterday’s post, but really, if you think about it, I’ve almost closed a circle I started drawing on Day 1. Tomorrow, we’re on to tone, and from thence to a handful of fabulous words like Villanelle and Zeugma.

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A to Z Day 18: Revision

I think the three most important parts of the writing process are:

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Click for A to Z blog list.

1. Actually finishing a draft.

2. Revising the draft (which is different than editing).

3. Finding someone else to read it and give you feedback.

I talked about the importance of finishing drafts on Saturday. Today’s post is all about revision. Understanding the writing process in a general way is important, but understanding what works for you is even more important. Once we get down to details, every writer’s process is unique. I suggest finding a writing process that allows you to play to your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.

I outlined my own writing process in detail not long after I started this blog (apologies for the awfulness of the graphic). The first thing I do to a draft before I even think about real revision is cut words. That’s because I’m wordy — it’s a real weakness for me, so I have a step in my personal writing process just to compensate for it.

Once I get to the real revision stage, I’m asking myself these sorts of questions:

  1. Is my language appropriate for my audience and purpose?
  2. Have I organized this piece of writing in a logical way?
  3. Is there any part of this that I could remove entirely without changing the quality of the writing or the message I’m communicating?
  4. Is it well-paced?
  5. For Fiction: Are my characters acting like real people? Do they have motivations and weaknesses? Are they just doing what they’re doing to make the plot work?

These are the sorts of issues I deal with in revision. Questions that might require a wholesale rewrite. You have to be willing to do wholesale rewrites if you want to get better. Revision is not about fixing your punctuation and grammar — that’s editing, and it should be the last thing you do.

Editing a piece of writing before you’re sure you have a mostly-finished draft is a waste of productivity. What if you spend half an hour editing a page of text, then decide later to cut the whole thing? Just wasted 30 minutes of your finite life fixing grammar and punctuation that will never matter to anyone, is what you did.

Revision is important. It is what turns mediocre writing into good writing, and good writing into great.

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