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A Tone Too Far

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In light of recent posts, I started to really look at tone. As when it comes to writing. Of all the points of writing, I think tone has to be one of the hardest to master. How I may write something, may be misconstrued by the reader. That then lead me to a question. Can informal writing–like blog posts and forums–help strengthen your tone when writing prose?

What got me thinking about this was my conversations with my critic and then how I worded a–now deleted–section of my review.

For my critic, I tried to show him areas of his writing that came off as antagonistic or arrogant. His claim was that he wasn’t being either and just stating facts.  Which I can see that it may have been his intention. But the tone with which it was written didn’t read that way. I mentioned to him that it is something I struggle within my own writing, to be clear as possible and watch for those areas that may come off as attacking.

Then, in my review, I stepped all over that struggle and then beat it with a hammer. After being published, I re-read that section of my review and caught just how accusatory and derogatory it sounded. But when I initially wrote it, those feelings were far from my mind.

What causes this? That disconnect?

The first thing that pops into my head is word choice. I really think that is the bulk of it. We have to be diligent about knowing what connotations each word can have. What can be said in person can’t always be transcribed to the written word.

Here is a great example:

Wow, that is stupid.

There are so many different ways we can take that. Which is why I’m thankful for dialogue tags and verbs. They are a huge help in clarifying dialogue. But how can we get that same kind of clarity in a blog post or informal online discussion? Should we all start writing descriptive text around our “dialogue?” That could be kind of fun. Have an entire AIM chat with dialogue tags and descriptive sentences. It would be like role-playing. But with far fewer dice rolls.

Though, I think that is why I am often tempted to use emoticons when typing on the internet. I see them as determinatives in hieroglyphs. A little visual marker to indicate the tone in which the sentence should be read. Which for me, tends to be a lot of smiley faces. Because I am an even keeled person.

But the writer in me is loath to use them in places like a blog post. Even on places like Reddit I am hesitant to use them. Possibly because emoticons are a crutch. If I can’t get my tone across through my words, then I should really rethink how I structured my sentence. And I really hope it is paying off in my formal writing.

Still though, the idea of writing everything as if it’s a novel does sound fun, right? Write.

Jeffrey reread his post and nodded with approval. Yep, he thought, another post that will be viewed by my mother and twelve others.



  1. Gary H. says:

    Oh, I definitely subscribe to the notion that blogs are excellent practice for that kind of thing. I’ve a had a blog, now, for 9 years on LiveJournal. I’ve definitely gotten better over the years at conveying the right tone, and I think it has definitely helped both my writing and my critiquing, because, like you said, “That is stupid” is a bit (just a TAD) belligerent, but saying, “This doesn’t work for me, and here’s why…” is better.

    It’s also funny how you post this as I am working on a blog post about word choice, connotation, denotation, and how all-important it is. I have been writing this particular blog post for several months because I believe it’s central to all of writing. Just watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News report the same event to get an excellent idea how word choice can affect what the audience gets out of what’s being said. 🙂

    • That’s why–in my written critiques to group members–I never leave comments like, “This doesn’t work.” Because that doesn’t really help the author. Better to have an explanation on why you believe it doesn’t work.

      And I also enjoyed the fact that you slipped in an emoticon at the end of your comment.

      • Kaa says:

        Yes, that was done entirely on purpose. I use them liberally on LiveJournal. Somewhat less so on my writing blog, and a lot less on my third, much more serious blog.

  2. Greg Baker says:

    Word choice is a vital.

    During my re-writes, selecting the right words makes all the difference between
    a passable sentence and one that grabs the reader by the eyeballs. As I read, I ask myself ‘what effect should this passage have on the reader?’ and ‘is are my words accomplishing that goal?’ Then I edit accordingly.

    An example is the current action script I’m writing. I did a pass through the first act last night making sure the material crackled with energy. I couldn’t have any passé scenes or limp moments. That involved killing all the remaining passive sentences, and amping up the verb choices.

    Did I end up with the right tone? I think so.

    “He stabs the villain’s shoulder.” doesn’t sound nearly as active as
    “He rams his blade through the villain’s shoulder”. Ouch, that one even hurts to read! The great thing about word choice, particularly verb choice, you won’t need to rely on qualifiers.

    In the previous example, ‘stabbing’ the villain could have any emotional quality. It’s boring. It’s like painting on a white canvas with off-white paint. But ‘rams his blade’? Ramming is done with force, intention, and usually out of anger. The meaning and emotional tone are self-evident.

    I’ve gone entirely too long for a comment. 😉

  3. Kaa says:

    Jeffrey reread his post and nodded with approval. Yep, he thought, another post that will be viewed by my mother and twelve others.

    I used to say things like, “Hello to all both of my readers…”

    You’ve got 107 followers, which is about 100 more than I have. Kudos.

    • Haha, it was meant to be tongue and cheek. I really didn’t know what else to write to be honest. Though I’m not sure where those 107 followers actually are. My site stats average about 20 to 25 hits a day.

      • Kaa says:

        They’re probably like me. I follow a lot of blogs, but I tend to go weeks between spurts of reading, and then I’ll read all the unread posts at once. If I actually blogged more than once per month, I’d probably get more hits. Heh.

      • Of course, it says 96 of them are twitter followers. So I’m not sure exactly what that means…

  4. My blog hit count per day varies, although it is on average higher than yours per day.

    Do you use keywords in your post? Remember, Meta Tags mean search-engine hits.

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