It’s all about TONE!

IT all started a year ago.

As you can read in other posts, the idea to create this blog originated while I interned at Tin House Books in Portland. It was terrifically rewarding to assist at the afternoon lectures of the TIN HOUSE SUMMER WRITER’S WORKSHOP and  listen to some especially delicious commentary from the visiting faculty.

Yesterday, “Beginnings, a panel with Ann Hood, Joy Williams, and J.C. Hallman, moderated by Michelle Wildgen” didn’t focus on anything I’ve previously commented on – not directly, anyway.

TONE.  Yesterday, it was all about tone!

The prevailing comment put forward by all three authors as the most important element to establish at the opening of a story, is tone. A story must create a uniform tone that in the microcosmic first sentences (or paragraphs or pages) represents the story as a whole. Ann Hood suggested that the very opening (but not necessarily the first sentence)should represent the entire story. I believe, in previous blogs, I’ve used the analogy of the acorn’s DNA holding the same DNA as the oak. Ms. Hood also used the seed into fully grown plant analogy.

It was interesting to hear J.C. Hallman and Joy Williams quote first sentences as ambassador to the story. Joy Williams quoted, Pat Conroy’s THE PRINCE OF TIDES: “My wound is geography,” while J.C. Hallman commented on the “modest” tone of HOWARD’S END: “One may as well begin with Helen’s letter to her sister.” Both openings employ different strategies to alert the reader to the upcoming prospect. Each member of the panel agreed that at the beginning, the author has limitless possibility, however, very quickly, and once the story’s tone is established, the reader expects that story to stay within boundaries established by the author.

I wonder, and I wish I’d asked this during the panel Q&A, how does one write “tone” or even put one’s finger on it? It seems much easier for a student writer to indicate setting, character, choice – all of which contribute to create plot, but how does an emerging (or emerged) writer dissect tone from these other technical elements?

Your turn! Comments please….

But first, I must give a shout out to Karen Russell’s lecture presentation of Monday afternoon where she referred to story writing as a TECHNOLOGY. As what?? Not in the sense of nuts, bolts, gears or www, but each element of a story’s reality having technical energies of say, fantasy, familiarity, structure and desire (like in outcome or intention). You must track her down and find out more! Start with her story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.


Filed under Just the way I see it

3 responses to “It’s all about TONE!

  1. This is one of the most truly delicious sites where one can feast on a plethora of literary genres – it is a thoughtfully laid out table of truly innovative insights with a dash of Burchspice…not to be missed -plan on linking it to my woefully outdated site when I update…

  2. I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blog award–for some reason my post didn’t ping you, so I’m letting you know now. 🙂

    here’s the original post:

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