on setting the right tone

I was reminded of the importance of tone the other day, when a friend mentioned on facebook how much she hated a particular song (see video below). I clicked on it and had to laugh. The girl can sing but my-oh-my…what a terrible song.

My work-in-progress is, I hope, a funny/serious book. While writing the first draft, I had to work to maintain a certain lightness of tone and it was more difficult than I expected it to be, especially around the middle where things in general tend to get a little scary for a writer (I got this Novel Chart from this post by  Sonje Jones--it’s brilliant)

I found that I had to be careful what books I read that year–reading a dense, downery book (even a highly acclaimed one) sucked all the fun out of my typing fingers. So I re-read some lighthearted favorites, PG Wodehouse, Richard Russo’s Straight Man, Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder books. Of course I read some new books (it was a freakin’ year after all) but I had to be careful. I have a stack of books that I bought and started before I realized their fun-suckeriness. They’re still waiting for me, accusingly I might add, on a table in the bedroom.

Now that I’m going back through and fixing things up in my book, eventually tone is something I’ll have to evaluate. A falter in tone is one of those “you know it when you see it” things in other people’s books.* I just hope I’ll be able to see it in mine as well.

__________

* One of my critique partners (whom you’ll notice I do not name here, so if and when you read this, Critique Partner X, don’t be angry) had a serious scene in which her characters had to get into a car with leather seats on a hot day. So, in this beautifully written, tender scene she described the sound that their damp flesh made on the seat as “farty.”  My tone antennae fairly quivered with outrage. I think I managed to convince her that she simply could not use that word in that scene. I’m not certain, however. You see, she’s French, and after some of our discussions about bidet towels, I suppose I’m never 100% certain what she’ll do next. Haha!

And finally, here’s the cheesy serial-killer love song that inspired this post. Obviously, it’s very personal to this young woman, but I’m sorry. Too bad. Anyone who can keep a straight face while singing, “You’re going to catch a cold from the ice inside your soul” is just asking for shit.

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4 thoughts on “on setting the right tone

  1. Hey, thanks for the link love. 🙂

    A funny/serious book, eh? That is a fine line to walk. It’s got me thinking about how people would describe the books in my series. The feedback I’ve received is that the funny bits are quite funny. At the same time, my protagonist is a detective who works cases where bad people do bad things, so I guess that’s serious.

    Well, whatever. Good luck to both of us!

  2. I completely love the link and the graph! So true! Also, I completely agree with you, Melissa, about watching what I read while writing. If I’m writing contemporary and reading historical, pretty soon my dialogue loses all credibility because it’s too formal. I need to read as close as I can to the tone and type of book I’m writing.

    However, I take complete umbrage at your disparaging remarks about Jar of Hearts! I LOVE that song, and even more so the video. It’s not a love song…it’s a hate song. Hating that this guy has torn her apart, along with anyone else he can get his hands on, and now he’s back for more. The tone is perfect.

    Just found info about it on a lyrics site that quoted Perri’s blog (cause I really need to make my point here, cause I’m having a bad day full of no one paying attention to my point…sorry, you get the brunt of it, LOL!): “Perri penned the song about a serial heartbreaker she once dated. The singer stated in her blog the story behind the tune: “‘I wrote the song after I went home to Philadelphia for the holiday last December. I sat in my childhood bedroom and hid from the boy (with the jar of hearts) who wanted to see me. My heart wanted to see him, my head knew better.'”

    • umbrage? hahaha…okay sorry. I don’t take my musical loves or hates seriously enough, I suppose. But I can’t stand that you’ve had a bad day….so I’m going to completely recant my entire opinion of that song. I invoke the power of anti-mock.

      There. All better.

      I love that song. In fact, it does remind me of a CSI episode I watched once…and since I used to love to watch CSI, why wouldn’t I love it?

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