As writers, we cannot deny the tone can be one of the most important things. Altering one sentence can change the feel of a piece, or the pace or the idea that we are encouraging our readers to pick up. As always- with writing, there are so many odd, little things that can show rather than tell- it could even be the tense or the strength of one word (I’ve studied Latin works enough to know how important word-choice is), but today I have chosen to talk about tone for one specific, selfish reason:
I had to rewrite the tone of the first paragraph of my longest novel, ‘When the Clock Broke…’ last night.
I won’t lie. I hate beginnings. Writer and Oxford academic, Katherine Rundell, said to me on Friday “get to the end of a story before thinking about the beginning,” which is a very valid point, but a place I thought I had reached long ago (she also mentioned that fourth beginning’s the charm, so I might be in luck this time! xD) And When the Clock Broke…’s beginning is one I’ve struggled with for a while.
The first draft held my NaNo-written, fifteen-year-old’s interpretation of a beginning. As did the second, because I hadn’t learnt the true meaning of ‘edit’ when I did the ‘editing’. The third was probably my worst. It was all my ominous culture-of-the-land dump with a vague introduction to time, featuring the ambiguous sentence “the eyes of time had split”.
Now, I had been making introductions like those for quite a few of my serious novels. In ‘A Game of Murder’, the main character, Alexandra, was given a whole externalist paragraph before the original opening scene. I was convinced that both these openings gave some prophetic mysticism in their tone, some dark ‘quintessentialism’ to provide a rounded observation of the setting.
How wrong I was. Sure, writers probably often succeed with openings of those ideas. But not me. Not an unpublished YA writer. The critique of said first paragraph went along these lines: “It may be nice, but it doesn’t add anything, it doesn’t show your voice, and it doesn’t introduce the characters. You need to start off at your hook, with your MC.” (thank you John Hansen!)
And it was then that I knew what had been sounded wrong in my mind with the third beginning: tone. It had been too dull and dragging. Just as that critique pointed out. I had no character there, no liveliness.
So, with that in mind, I wrote the words ‘Miss Aidelle Masters’ and started from there, focusing on cooling (or should that be ‘lighting up’?) a cold piece of telling text.
I’d like to say I succeeded. Well, I was happy with the result, since the first paragraph contained little clues as to what is going on at present. Five words? ‘blindfold’, ‘fragrant’, ‘resistance’, and ‘pleasurable distraction’.
Although I have not intended (correction: never first intended!) for the novel to have elements of sexual love, I believe that this first paragraph hints at the intensity of romance.
And also its mystery. For that’s very important- the mystery of falling, and continuing to survive, in Amore.
All that from just a change of tone? Well done!