The tone of the novel, the voice the readers will hear when they open your book, is one of the most important things to watch for when you’re editing your final drafts before submitting or self-publishing. There are lots of theories about it–how important it is to have an individual style, how important it is to maintain authenticity of voice, etc., and it can be confusing and overwhelming to face when dealing with your own writing. I’ve decided to do a three-part series on tone, starting with the world you’ve created and then moving to the world your readers are living in and how to bridge the gap in a way that doesn’t sound stand-off-ish or inconsistent.
When it comes to your world, it is important to understand that however grounded to reality your novel is, it is still by definition a work of fiction. It is something that you have created and something that you have to work at to maintain its authenticity and immerse your readers in it. Tone is one of the best tools for this. Many authors, most notably Mark Twain for a strong example, wrote entire novels in a strong dialogue, and others like Brian Jacques (author of the Redwall series) use it to make their characters stand out better, most noticeably the moles. However, while some authors have enjoyed great success by using this technique, it can give its share of problems as well. Some of these I will mention in my next Tone Talk, but the two main problems are (1) that it can make a story needlessly difficult to read and understand, and (2) that if you’re writing in a dialect you don’t know well, others will notice your mistakes.
To overcome those problems, I usually spend some time thinking about and planning a specific dialect before putting it into my story. I watch for changes in sentence structure and word choices so that I won’t have to misspell words so much for the sake of including a believable accent. This applies to individual characters as well. Different people have different vocabularies and pet phrases, and if you ignore that in your writing, then everyone will come out sounding pretty much just like you, and the story will fall flat.
The proper use of distinct dialects and tones in your novel will make your whole world more believable and real to your readers, and it will also enhance your voice as a writer. I highly encourage looking into this tool with the proper precautions of keeping it realistic and not letting it get too hard to read. In the meantime, keep an eye out for my next Tone Talk on your reader’s world and how to make sure you’re not so swallowed up in your own world that others can’t understand it. There is something to be said for not using strong accents and bold style variants that you might want to consider before going all out!