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 by Steven James, and one of the things he talks about is setting the tone and atmosphere for the story.
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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.
This guest post was 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.
Interesting advice. I’m aware people say that change is needed for a good story, particularly change with the characters themselves.
I’m also learning how to become a better storyteller, so I’ll definitely check that book out! I’ve just finished ‘Storyworthy’ by Matthew Dicks, which is really good imo and that I would recommend 🙂
I’m always on the lookout for simple, evocative “writer’s wrules” and this one seems to fit.
Mood is authorial, tone is character driven. One should have intent in both of those narrative aspects when entering a writing session:
• What mood do I want to set for this scene?
• What tone should each character take within that mood?
Of course, both of those are contained within the greater story direction, theme and character arc, but, these are easy to sticky-note and remind oneself upon embarking on a scene.
Good stuff, thanks.