Can an Attitude Adjustment Make Your Story Better?



by Jean M. Cogdell

Well, maybe. Sometimes just like kids, our characters need an attitude adjustment.

A change in attitude at our house could save my kids a world of grief. And me a lot of aggravation. Parents reading this know exactly what I’m talking about.

The mood in our house could go from calm and peaceful to stormy in zero to sixty seconds if someone couldn’t find their shoes or if one of their siblings “stole” a favorite toy.

If only I had a dollar every time I’ve said, “Watch your tone, young lady.” or “Child, you better change that attitude.” I’d be very rich.

Why am I talking about tone and atmosphere?
Because I’m learning how important it is to put these two things at the beginning of a story.

I’m currently reading Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules Kindle Edition by Steven James, and one of the things he talks about is setting the tone and atmosphere for the story.

Mr. James explains the reader becomes enmeshed in their surroundings from page one. So it’s important to set the stage early, to create a mood, and tone that is consistent with promises you’ve made to the reader.

In a story, we establish the mood through the setting. Such as in music, layout, weather, room decor, lights, etc.

The tone is something else. That is conveyed through dialog. The voice, dialect, rhythm, and style that tells the story.

“You better change your tone girl.” Another admonishment my daughter has heard me say a few hundred times. In a few clipped words, she could convey acid like sarcasm that’d peel paint from the wall.

I’m not even half-way through Mr. James’s book, but I can tell you it will find a permanent place in my library.





Guest post contributed by Jean M. Cogdell. Jean grew up in a small SC town, near the Great Smoky Mountains. Her stories and essays are available in Fiction Southeast, Anthology Once Upon A Time, Flash Fiction World II, Scissors & Spackle, Squawk Back, WTD, YAREAH, and Angie’s Diary Online Magazine.

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8 thoughts on “Can an Attitude Adjustment Make Your Story Better?”

  1. Maybe it’s about being bold too – bold about breaking those rules to achieve the effect you’ve chosen and you know this is the best way to go about it. I think that’s what I like so much about Stephen King – its not th horror for me, its the tone and confidence with respect to the characters he introduces. Food for thought. Thanks for the post.


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