1. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    I expect I know the answer but...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sal Boxford, Jul 26, 2016.

    ...do you ever have difficulty working out the tone (or even genre) of a piece and if so, how do you work out what it should be?

    Ever started out writing a horror that turned into a comedy (or vice versa)? Started out with a nicely rambunctious sci-fi piece and accidentally written something pretty deep?

    A lot of my short stories I end up writing two or three different ways and really can't decide which I like best. I get part way through a draft and think, 'Aha! What I should do is...' and another bloody variant on the exact same story appears.

    The answer, I suspect, is 'write more and you'll get more of a feel for these things', or maybe just 'you need to know when to stop redrafting', but I'm asking anyway.
     
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  2. Dr. Mambo
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    Dr. Mambo Active Member

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    That's not a bad answer.

    I can't say I've had any issues with tone that are so major I might reconsider what genre I'm writing, but I've run into situations where I realize I'm writing a character differently at the end of a story than I did at the beginning and have to do some major additions and deletions to achieve continuity. That's always really frustrating for me.

    I would be concerned if I was writing a horror story and it turned into a comedy. I recall a quote from an author about how horror in the wrong hands becomes comedy, and comedy in the wrong hands becomes dirge, so I'd probably view a total 180 like that a failing on my part--unless I was able to turn the story into a black comedy Evelyn Waugh style. A well-written story can be many things at once though. Who says sci-fi romp can't ultimately go deep? Why can't a drama include a touch of comedy? To write a sad song, a musician can't only use chords in minor because then there's no contrast to make them sound dark or sad. A musician has to include one or two major chords for balance. It's no different in writing.

    When you write each one of your ideas and can't decide which is best, why not just turn them into three separate stories? If they're drastically different, then aren't they already stand-alone works? And if they aren't drastically different, then why not combine them back into a single story? Also, have you had anyone beta-read the different versions? If I'm struggling with a scene or even a whole story arc, usually my betas will notice something is off and give me a good recommendation as to how to proceed.
     
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  3. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    That would be interesting. I should try that. It seems a lot to ask someone to read three different versions of the same thing but it could definitely be useful.

    The specific problem I have is that almost all of my stories start off as fairly flippant 'comedy' pieces (well, I think they're funny), then gradually get more serious and eventually get really, really dark. I start off with Douglas Adams and end up with Kafka (not so much in terms of quality, obviously!)

    I absolutely take your point that there's a mix of light and dark in anything, it's more whether I represent that in a light and bouncy style that has moments of 'yikes, that's bleak' or or something cold and harsh with moments of dark comedy.
     
  4. Dr. Mambo
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    Dr. Mambo Active Member

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    It is, but hopefully the betas will enjoy what you've written and then they'll be more willing to help you with things like reading 3 separate versions of the same story in the future. I have 3-4 betas who give very good feedback and will sometimes text me to ask what I'm working on. You gotta get 'em hungry for more!

    I don't see any problem with that. If done correctly, it could evoke some strong emotions in the reader in a "how the hell did we end up here?!" kind of way. Maybe you're second-guessing yourself too much?

    I'd recommend reading The Love One by Evelyn Waugh. I think you'll find it will provide some valuable insight as to how to mix dark and light while fitting into the comedy genre. It's only about 150 pages. Very easy read, and demented too.

    EDIT: I think The Loved One is public domain as well. In any case, I found a pdf of it via Google.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    No. I don't think much about genre until I'm actually pitching.

    No and no.

    Pretty much. Good luck.
     
  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I think just write the story and then decide later which labels you want to slap on it.

    I'm not at all opposed to the idea of genre labels, in fact I can geek out looking at the particulars of subgenres. But if you're writing something that doesn't fit neatly, just write it and deal with the finished product when you have one.

    Mine is technically near-future sci-fi - I have to do sci-fi level world extrapolation - but it's set in a TV newsroom and reads more like a contemporary piece and I take most of my stylistic cues from ensemble TV workplace dramas like The West Wing or Grey's Anatomy. So it reads as a contemporary with really restrained worldbuilding that focusses on cultural differences from today rather than techy stuff. I've been advised by agents not to pitch it as sci-fi, but really it's impossible to separate from speculative fiction and there are a lot of reasons I think it could be problematic in the general fiction market - not least the worldbuilding aspects. I can't find many comp titles - which is both scary and exhilarating. I'll eventually try pitching it to both speculative-fiction and non-speculative fiction agents and see shat sticks (my evil plot is to try and pitch people who like historical fiction, because really the toolkit I'm using is more the historical bag of tricks, I'm just doing a period piece in a period that hasn't happened yet).

    What is it really? I have no clue, I'm just going to make it as good as I can get it and go from there - although I have started calling it "SelfiePunk" as a joke (my definition for that being a near future extrapolated to show how the social proclivities of the Millenial and post-Millenial generation affect people as they move into adulthood and middle age).
     
  7. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    I think I've confused things here with talk of genres. I probably did mean 'tone' instead. I just never know how serious I want a story to be. I start out with concept and characters - no idea of the type of story it is. My instinct is always to be light-hearted and silly, the more work I do on a piece, the more brooding it gets. Apparently, that's the not the case for anyone else though!
     
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  8. Dr. Mambo
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    Dr. Mambo Active Member

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    I generally start brooding and end dismal... Just depends what you're going for. I write a lot of horror.
     
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  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a slightly different problem which is that I'm always trying to write serious drama and every one assumes I'm trying to be funny because my characters all have my sarcastic sense of humor and crack a lot of one liners. So the struggle is real when it comes to figuring out tone, for sure.
     
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  10. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    I'm not sure it matters what the genre is from the writing perspective - FROM DUSK TILL DAWN switches from one to another.

    It might be relevant from a marketing POV
     
  11. Vagrant Tale
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    Vagrant Tale Active Member

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    I'm under the firm belief that readers want a consistent tone, so I'd just keep going and go back and forth to figure out what tone I liked, then finish up in that tone.

    That doesn't mean I rule out having humor or what-not, but I'd just try to keep it with some kind of internal logic that a reader feels isn't too random.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Ah, that kind of answers my question. What is your frame of mind when you start writing?

    Here's an all-purpose crazy tip that might help you. Pick a friend, relative, somebody you know well, and PRETEND you're telling the story to them. That's a really good way to focus your tone. If you were telling this story to your 10-year-old niece, what would it sound like? If you were telling this story to your significant other, what would it sound like? If you were telling it to your best friend from school? Your dad? And etc. I suspect if you keep a specific audience in mind, your tone problems will sort themselves out.

    As you're doing now, your story is dictating the tone, and because it starts off light and then gets darker as the implications sink in, so does your tone. However, if you have a person in mind, you will always be conscious of how your words are hitting them, and what they are thinking about as you 'tell' the story. So rather than the story events taking over, the impact of the events will be what you focus on.
     
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  13. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    Thanks. This is all really helpful.

    @jannert the audience point is very interesting. Come to think of it, this 'darkening' didn't really happen till I started a creative writing course and had to show my work to other people. Maybe it's that *I* enjoy light and silly writing, but that I don't think other people will take my writing seriously unless it has a more serious tone. Maybe I unknowingly assumed the audience I had in mind (my tutor group) wanted something dark.

    As for my frame of mind when I start out it's always, "oh imagine the hilarity that would ensue if...,' then I write a series of sketches in that vein, then I imagine what it would be like to really be in the situations I've described, and it occurs to me that it really would not be funny if it was your reality: it would be fecking horrible. So, the sketches are very silly, the first draft is a little more serious, the second draft is downright bleak.
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's not necessarily a bad progression, and everybody needs to revise their work. If this is a result of you getting to know your subject better as you write it, embrace the situation and make it work for you. As long as the tone evolves naturally, this might be your natural writer's voice.

    You know who else did this in nearly all of his fiction? Mark Twain. He usually started out in lighthearted, hilarious vein, and then the thing would darken considerably. I'm a huge fan of Twain and have read all of his major works. They all do this.
     
  15. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I don't think anything I write really turns out exactly how I expect / want it to. But then when you start writing what you have is a bare outline. Once all the gaps are filled in the finished work will look quite different anyway.
     
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  16. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    Thanks, @jannert. I picked up Tom Sawyer once in the library but discounted it for some extremely petty reason (does someone threaten to beat a kid on the first page, maybe?) Perhaps Twain should be the next classic author I explore. I think I heard that he's got a bit of an 'outsider/innocent reacting to the ridiculousness of society' thing going on, which should be right up my street.
     
  17. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    That's been the thing that has surprised me most since I've been taking writing more seriously. At the start I *think* I know the whole story and what it's about, then I read my first draft and realise it's about something else entirely - usually something a bit more compelling too.
     
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  18. Dr. Mambo
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    Funny how that happens, huh? I think everyone who writes has experienced it. Sometimes I wonder if Stephen King didn't nail it when he said that stories are pre-existing artifacts we dig up, not things we create.
     
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