Featured·Self Publishing·Writing

How to Discover Your Book’s Tone

5 minute read

In my previous post in this series, I asked you to distill the greatness of your unwritten book into one sentence. That can be a daunting challenge, especially if you’re unsure what your book as a whole will look like when it’s finished. [ref]As every epic seems to quote, “Sometimes the only way out … is through,” so it’s OK to not exactly know where your book is going before you write it.[/ref]

Today’s question from The Self-Publisher’s Checklist (a free download, by the way) might be just as challenging, but should be just as rewarding for when you finally start writing your magnum opus.

What three separate adjectives best describe the tone of your book?

When talking about tone, think about people you talk to on a regular basis. If you had to describe your best friend’s overall tone when they’re talking with you, what words would you use? They can be simple words like happy, depressed, or funny, or they can be very specific words like passionate, entrancing, or sarcastic.

Now ask yourself this ridiculous(ly awesome) question: if my finished book transmogrified into a real person and held a discourse with me using only the words within its pages, what would be his or her overall tone? [ref] Thank you Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes for the infinitely useful word “transmogrified.” [/ref] What three words would I use to describe this person?

For my own book, his tone could be described as thoughtful, playful, and engaging. His thoughtfulness came through in the care and attention he gave to the show about which he spoke so passionately. An audience could hear his playfulness through the asides scattered throughout his pages and buried in the footnotes. Lastly, his words engaged his listeners for a number of reasons, the least of which was their common bond over a popular TV show.

Yes, this exercise is much easier to do in retrospect, and your book’s tone may very well change in the middle of your writing. That’s OK. This is simply an early exercise to help you consider how you want your book to come across to your readers. Though I have yet to venture into fiction, I can easily imagine a forceful character taking over your narrative, greatly altering your book’s tone halfway through.

By imagining your book as a person, you might be able to gain a little objective distance from the words that are so often so close to your heart.

In doing so, you should be able to see your words for what they are and not what you assume them to be. If you don’t like the person’s tone who’s talking back to you, you have the incredible writerly power of changing that person’s entire being. Find the words you want them to say until the tone they strike pleases you, because if your book’s tone is amenable to you, it should strike the necessary chords with your future readers.

Lastly, I recommend brainstorming a dozen or more adjectives to describe your book’s tone. Print these words out (possibly beneath your one-sentence summary) and have them easily accessible for when you begin writing. That way you can ensure that your book’s tone stays consistent throughout your writing. Once you’ve written a majority of your book, whittle your list to three defining adjectives and see if your work maintains those tones throughout.

If you’ve written or are considering writing a book, what three tonal adjectives describe your book?

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