In my last post, I talked about the use of detail with tone. This time, I’m going to show you how diction helps to set the right tone in a scene.
Diction is the choice of words that the author uses in their writing. It can be whether you use the word jumped or leaped or dove for character going for the remote. I find that choosing the right choice word for a sentence can make or break a scene. Some of the scenes that I’ve written used to make me gag before I went in and just changed a few words. It’s like putting the finishing touches on a work of art that pull the entire thing together.
Okay, you can probably already guess that I’m going to be using an example. Let’s say that we have a character who is eating breakfast. Sorry, I’m kind of hungry and this was the first thing to come to mind.
Here’s the first version of the sentence:
The man nibbled at his bacon.
The word nibbled makes you think he isn’t hungry. Combined with the rest of the scene, this scene could have a tone of nervousness or disgust. Maybe even depression. There are plenty of different tones, but combine it with the rest of the scene, and it can reinforce the picture in the reader’s head. If I wanted my scene to be nervous, I would use the word nervous. The trick is to make all of the sentences in the scene have words with that tone. If I were going with nervous, I might also include words in other sentences like shuffled, shaky, quietly, darted, ect.
Here’s the second version of the sentence:
The man ate his bacon.
This is a bad example. Ate isn’t a very descriptive word for tone, unless there is another word in the sentence that you want to draw attention to. If there is something else in the sentence that is more important, then you might use a bland word like eat or said, but I usually make it a rule to avoid those words. Said doesn’t have any emotion behind it. Screamed, whispered, giggled. Those all have some kind of emotion.
Here’s the third version of the sentence:
The man scarfed down his bacon.
This shows that the man is either really hungry or in a hurry. I would use the word scarfed to show a tone of desperation, rushed, or even satisfaction.
My challenge for you is to try this out. Find the scene that you used for the last post, where we improved it with details, or choose a new one. Go through and highlight the words that could set the tone. It could be eat verses choked or a word that describes something else, like big verses huge. Figure out what tone you want for that scene and then match up the words. If your tone was excited, you might change the word smiled to grinned.
Now take a look at how your scene has changed, how changing the diction of the scene completed it and brought it together better.
Here’s a tip: I make it a habit to make a note in my editing process every time the tone changes and what the tone is, so that way I can edit like this in sections. I can go ahead and identify the tone of each scene before I write it, and then when I transition from tone to tone, scene to scene, I can start changing the diction.
Keep holding on to this scene. Tomorrow we’ll make it even better with another trick to enforce tone.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!
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