Voice Lesson 5

Lesson 5 Tone

Tone is the expression of attitude in writing. For some writing projects you might use a formal tone, others an informal, or even familiar tone. In fiction, the tone should reflect the type of fiction you are writing. And characters express tone in the way they speak.
Take this passage:

“Microphone feedback kept blaring out the speaker’s words, but I got the outline. Withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. Recognition of Cuba. Immediate commutation of student loans. Until all these demands were met the speaker said he considered himself in a state of unconditional war with the United States government.

I laughed out loud.”
~Tobias Wolff

The tone here is sardonic. The phrase “Microphone feedback kept blaring out the speaker’s words, but I got the outline” conveys, perhaps, disdain. I can just hear this speaker saying, blah, blah, blah. Then, listing out the demands as if they were on a to-do list makes the reader feel like the voice in this passage isn’t taking them too seriously. And finally, “I laughed out loud” is the final punch, which clearly shows how ridiculous the person thinks the speaker is.

Or take this example:

“There is no drop of water in the ocean, not even in the deepest parts of the abyss, that does not know and respond to the mysterious forces that create the tide. No other force that affects the sea is so strong. Compared with the tide the wind created waves are surface movements felt, at most, no more than a hundred fathoms below the surface.” ~Rachel Carson

What is the author’s tone? Clearly it is reverence. But almost formal too. The use of negative sentence constructions conveys a formality that helps to highlight the reverence: no drop of water in the ocean, not even the deepest parts of the abyss…”

What do you think the tone is in this poem by Sylvia Plath?

What a thrill–
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge.
Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
dead white.
Then a red plush.

Indifference? Irony?

Write a passage using a tone that conveys grief. What kind of sentences will you use?