Emotional Tone

Something I think about a lot as I’m starting a new project is the emotional tone of the story. What do I want the reader to be feeling as they’re reading? (Besides a desire to keep turning the page, of course.) It can be a subtle thing, and is not always dictated by the subject matter. For instance, even though John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is about two kids with cancer, it’s a relatively light, upbeat (if occasionally sad) book. Or the Harry Potter series, despite the lightness of some of the characters and concepts and language, gets somewhat dark toward the end.

Some day I’m going to challenge myself to write a cheery, upbeat book, maybe something like Ally Carter’s Heist Society stories. But I’m not there yet. My books all skew toward the darker, with some more so than others. I feel an emotional pull to these stories, much more than to lighter ones, like the anguish of the main character(s) has me hooked by the chest and is pulling me along the plot.

Despite this, it’s hard to get just right. I know (I feel) the feeling I want to achieve, but I have to really think about the sort of scenes that will create it, at the book’s two climaxes. These become my guideposts for navigating my pantser writing ship: the big, emotional scenes that set the tone for the whole story and drive my progress. If I don’t nail them, then the whole story feels off the mark.

After some time flirting with a new idea, I’ve switched back to working on WIP#1, working-titled Drago Mafioso, and that’s why: I’ve figured out the emotional tone of the story and the big climax scenes, even though there’s still quite a lot else I don’t know about the story. With WIP#2 (which I’ve tentatively titled Downstream of the Sun), I got the opening chapter down but don’t yet know the climax scenes or the emotional tone driving the story, which left me feeling a bit lost about where to go next.

The two books I read most recently were Ally Carter’s Uncommon Criminals and Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess – which had very different emotional tones. I find it interesting, and useful, to think about what the tones were and how the authors achieved it; it’s not always the big highs or lows, sometimes it’s the subtle things.


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