The tone of a book can make the difference between a best seller and a flop. After all, the same story told in two different tones can become completely different experiences for a reader. Tone is often that missing puzzle piece when you just can’t put your finger on what is wrong with a piece of writing. It’s missing the writer’s voice.
So what is tone?
When people refer to the tone of a piece of writing, they are talking about a writer’s attitude toward a subject…the way an author makes you feel while you are reading. Tone is primarily conveyed through the author’s word choice (diction), point of view, syntax, and the level of formality in the writing.
But how do we teach tone to our children?
This is where things get complicated because much of an author’s tone is natural. Just as comedians are born funny, authors generally have a natural tone that just oozes from their pens! It is the writer’s voice.
The best advice we can give our children is to relax into their writing. Writing performed under stress and fear never exudes a natural and appealing tone. Instead, it evolves into a harsh, formal tone that alienates the reader. Once a student relaxes and enjoys the process of putting his words on the page, his natural tone will emerge. Happy writer = happy tone!
Encourage children to write anything and everything. Write lists, write thank you’s, write poems and notes! It is the frequency and familiarity with writing and seeing the effect that it has on other people that will eventually free your student to develop and discover his own unique tone. Blogging is also a great way to develop your individual tone.
As a writing teacher, there is often a moment when I read a student’s work and know just who wrote it. I can tell their work from everyone else’s in the class. It is a moment I cherish and always point out: it is the moment they have discovered their own voice and announced it with their tone. It is one of the great rewards of teaching!