Tuning in to Tone


As someone who enjoys sewing I naturally gravitated to the show Project Runway when it first aired some 10 years ago. Where else could I sit and watch people design and sew beautiful, and not so beautiful, outfits week in and week out. (For those uninitiated, a group of aspiring designers compete each week in a series of challenges with the end goal of being chosen to have a collection at the popular New York Fashion Week.)
But as anyone who has ever watched more than five minutes of the show can tell you, it’s not about the designing and sewing as it is about the personalities of the contestants. That is where the real drama lies, in how the contestants relate to each other – and it’s not all that positive. The contestants are always out for number one and the tone with which they speak about their competitors, particularly when they are interviewed is almost never positive.

That is in stark contrast to another TV show with a sewing theme, The Great British Sewing Bee, now in its fourth season. Here, the storyline is about the sewing and the work. The contestants will go out of their way to help one another, and when the season ends one is left with the sense that these folks will go on to be friends.

Same basic idea — sewing, designing, competition — yet the approach of the two series are vastly different. One is sweeter, the other fiercer.

While sweet may not make for as compelling a show as Project Runway, The Great British Sewing Bee has legions of fans and offers something positive and uplifting.

Which brings me to the subject of tone in writing.

Think about stories you’ve read, particularly those that have similar plots – perhaps a murder mystery. Some stories will focus on the detective, some on the community affected. Some are gritty. Some barely mention the violence but focus instead on the whodunit.

The choice of words, scenes, point-of-view and how you present your story all go into the tone your tale conveys. Even your protagonists and how you present them will influence your tone. (A book with a suburban mom who spends her day at the country club will likely have a different tone than a one about a doctor in a big city emergency room on a Saturday night.)

Tone is a critical part of writing, especially when thinking about publication, and will influence the market and readership of your story.

Not sure of the tone your writing is taking – read it again. Put it down, step away and pick it back up. Ask someone to take a read of a small section and let you know what they think.

The importance of tone, by the way, does not only apply to story writing. How many of us have sent an email that we intended to be read one way and only after-the-fact did we learn that it was taken in a completely different, and sometimes negative, way than intended?

​As for the battle of the sewing shows, while Project Runway may have been fun for a few minutes, I’ll take the joy of the Great British Sewing Bee anytime. 

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