Friday, February 1, 2013

Thursday Words: Don't Use That Tone With Me

By JccKeith

Bear with me people, I am about to take you on a somewhat epic journey.  I say somewhat because let’s be honest, not all journeys are epic.  For anyone who read that first line wrong, I asked you to bear with me, not bare with me.  I don’t need anyone getting naked out there while they read this.

So last night I was on the computer, I know it’s a big shocker, and I was clicking my way to more random knowledge on Stumbleupon.  I stumbled upon a website offering to analyze your writing and tell you what famous author your writing most resembles.

Who could resist such analysis?  Certainly not me but then I also like to gauge my passion level by placing my palm on those love meter machines at arcades.  I have also been known to gauge my strength using similar machines where you pull on a handle or smash a post with a sledge hammer.  

This site asks you to post a sample of your writing, the more you post the better the analysis.  So I thought I would post a few paragraphs from my novel.  This first set of paragraphs yielded Rudyard Kipling.  I thought, yeah, alright I can see that, maybe.

I started over and posted a few paragraphs from chapter 2 of the novel.  This yielded James Joyce.  A third time using a few paragraphs of the last chapter, chapter 40, yielded Arthur Clarke.  All great authors but something troubled me about it.  If this site is analyzing my writing style then shouldn’t my entire novel yield the exact same result no matter from which part of the novel I chose a sample? 

Great writers have a unique style and great writing has a consistent style throughout the work.  Concerned that I might need to go through and seriously edit my work, I decided to try posting a few chapters instead of just a few paragraphs.  This experiment yielded the result Rudyard Kipling again.  This was somewhat of a relief. 

I say somewhat because I am not really a fan of Rudyard Kipling, with one exception.  I’d say most know him by his book The Jungle Book.  For the most part for me The Jungle Book never really inspired any real excitement or appreciation of his skill as a writer.  On the other hand, the story of Rikki Tikki Tavi is one of my all time favorites and I just love the movie.

In the story of Rikki Tikki Tavi there is this great feel for the surroundings, for the world in which it takes place.  It is dark and exciting.  I first read this story as a child but I still like it.  For the longest time as a kid I wanted a mongoose just because of this story.  Then I saw Beast Master the movie, and I totally wanted a pair of ferrets.

Beast Master and his ferrets
Anyway, aside from my interest in obtaining certain pets – and I did eventually have a ferret and he did tricks and I carried him around in a backpack – oh yeah – back to my interest in writing.  More importantly, I started to consider the word style in reference to writing.

This made me consider the difference between style and tone.  I realized I definitely knew what style was but tone I thought I knew but I looked it up just to be sure.  For those interested, tone is the author’s attitude towards the subject.  The following questions help identify tone:
  • Why am I writing this?
  • Who am I writing this for, who is my intended audience?
  • What do I want the reader to take away from my work?

There are different tones one can use.  Expository writing is clear, confident and focuses on details and order of information.  The goal is to inform readers of something and the order of information is determined by what is most important for the reader to know.

Creative writing on the other hand is a little less strict.  Creative writing tone varies depending upon the genre in which one is writing.  Romance novels for example tend to have very expressive and emotional phrases.  When using creative writing, the author needs to think about what is being conveyed, how it is being conveyed and the emotions or lack thereof involved.

Tone can best be expressed in the example of how a person behaves in different settings.  Your tone at work is different than your tone at a party.  The words you choose to use are different based on your audience.  The wording is even different.  An example of this would be at work if you didn’t understand something someone said, you might say, “Could you repeat that?” or “Excuse me?”  At a party with friends you’re more likely to just say “What?”

Voice is different than tone in that it is your personality.  Your own personal twist on how you see things comes out in your writing.  Developing a strong voice in your writing is a crucial skill to establishing yourself as a great writer. 

Together, voice and tone combine to produce your own writing style.  When you have mastered your writing voice and tone you will have developed a distinguishable writing style.  Stephen King has a very noticeable writing style that is relatively easy to identify.  H.P. Lovecraft also has an easily identified writing style and so does Anne Rice. 

I say they are readily identifiable because if given a random chapter of their work, without being told who wrote it, you would probably be able to guess the author.  I use these authors as examples because I am familiar with their work.  There are many others whose styles are so defined such as Dean Koontz, Danielle Steele, Carl Sagan and I could go on.  You get the point.

Now that you know the definitions and examples, in case you didn’t already, you can go forth and prosper as a writer.  I wish everyone well on their own epic journeys.

Now, back to my ferret.  I had him for a year or two and he was super cool but high maintenance.  Ferrets are social animals and they get depressed if you ignore them or don’t have time for them.  When I became pregnant I knew I would no longer have the time and energy to devote to the ferret.  Instead of being the kind of person who carried around a green backpack with a ferret in it, I would be toting a diaper bag and infant.

For the record, ferrets are much cooler in the bathtub than infants.  The ferret would swim around all snake like and pretty much bathe himself.  The infant, well, not so self sufficient.  Ferrets also don’t demand to be fed every three hours or wear diapers.

It wasn’t really a tough decision between the two of them.  The infant won hands down.  I gave the ferret away to a friend and her husband who had two or three ferrets of their own already.  My Beast Master fantasy ended and I had another kid, bought a minivan and became a soccer mom.

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