Today’s the last day of Worldbuilding on FiYoShiMo, and we’re going to tie many pieces together.
When we talk the tone in a manuscript, we’re looking at the word chosen to convey the way the MS should feel to the audience. I know, we’re always technically talking word choice when we talk writing, but let’s not split hairs.
Think about the world you’re telling the story in. Think about the plot, think about how it affects the world. Got it in your head? It’s okay if it’s unclear, you’re not going to have to write the whole thing out today.
Get a piece of paper. We’re going to make a Feel Document, only now we’re going to call it a Tone Document, because I can rename it whatever I want.
Put the title of your MS on the paper. No title? Call it “The Untitled Book I’m Writing” or something. Call it Gary, let’s not get hung up on this point.
Did you have any scenes in your head? A moment that really stands out, either because you’ve already written it, or you’re excited to write it. can you get that scene boiled down to a sentence or phrase that fits on ONE LINE of the page?
On the line below that, draw a line.
On the lines below that, start listing adjectives to describe how that scene feels TO THOSE CHARACTERS INVOLVED IN IT.
A guy walks down a creepy, dark hallway looking for an axe murderer
Now in my made up scene, that guy is going to take an axe to the face at some point, but that action beat is pretty straightforward in terms of tone (pretty sure it’s going to suck to be him), so I want to really spend my words on the moments before axe-meets-face. The more I can put down there, the more buildup I can create to make the killing strike a bigger deal.
Do this for all the scenes that stand out to you. Do it for all the scenes you have written already.
Once you get all the scenes tonally listed, see if there are any common threads or even repeated words. These repeated adjectives are indicative of your world’s tone. They’re signposts that you don’t want to stray too far from when writing. Treat them like landmarks when you feel like you’ve gone off course. Navigate not based on action beats, but on how you want the MS to feel to the reader.
Ask: “Okay, I’m reading this, I’m in place of the character in this moment, what would I feel if this were happening to me?”
The two skills I’m suggesting you strengthen here have names. Reflection is when the tone remains consistent even when scene types or character arcs change. Treat it like an Instagram filter – the photo’s subject changes from your kale and horseshit sandwich to the pair of shoes you artfully balance next to your green juice and whichever bullshit book you think makes you look worldly, but it’s still sort of sepia and overblown. (I may have said too much there)
Reinforcement is when the tone gets cemented as more information gets added to the existing material. Think Lego – you’re building some monster-sized playset, and all the bricks are the same shade of grey, because the spaceship you’re making is grey. A red brick thrown into the middle would stick out, and likely irritate some part of you that appreciates appearance and your efforts.
Scenes need to fit tonally with each other. If you’re writing a snarky blogpost, it would feel weird to suddenly get all serious. This isn’t like when a boy band breaks it down while reaching out to the audience, this is more like when that record scratch moment when someone makes a bold statement just when everything gets quiet.
The arc of a character has to ride along the rails of tone while they experience whatever it is they’re going through. Yes, I mean boundaries. They help keep out the extraneous leakage of emotion and add a vector for the arc as you stay on target towards character change.
Your world’s tone needs to be reflected across all different types of elements. Want your dystopia to feel dirty and gritty and a little hopeless? Express those ideas in as many different ways as possible. There’s a balance there, to be sure, but when you’re getting the ideas onto the page, trust that revision will suss out when you’ve beaten dead horses. This isn’t time for revision, this is a time for production.
Practice, map it out. The more development you can do, the more you can solidify the idea in your own head, which will make those moments of “What am I doing here on this page?” easier to bear.
You can do this.
Tomorrow is Christmas, so there’s no FiYoShiMo. We’ve both earned a day off. See you on the 26th when we talk revision and other decisions. The homestretch of FiYoShiMo awaits!
Have a great holiday, if that’s your jam.