Syntax. It’s a really weird sounding word but is actually really simple to understand. Syntax is the way the author arranges their words in their sentences in order to express something. This isn’t to be confused with diction, which is the actual choice of words.
Okay, so today I’m going to ramble on about how syntax can help you to express the right tone in your scenes. By arranging your sentences in different ways, you can put emphasis on different things, even getting the reader’s path of thought to go the way you want it to.
But before we can relate it to tone, I’m going to give you a few examples of how you can emphasize things in your sentences. Okay, here are my example sentences:
Someday, I’m going to get a job.
I’m going to get a job someday.
So in the first example, the idea of getting a job sounds like some sort of dream. By putting someday before the rest of the sentence, I put the idea further into the future, deeming it a possibility rather than something within reach right now. The emphasis is on the someday. In the second example, the idea of getting a job seems a little less distant and might actually be coming soon. It doesn’t seem like it’s as much of a dream, because the emphasis is on “I’m going get a job”.
Okay, so now that we get the emphasis part, let’s see how this can apply to your tone. In the first example, the tone could be a number of things. It could be dread, determination, or even hopefulness. Those are all tones that focus on the someday part of the sentence. For the second, the tone is less hopeful and more determined because it seems like something that can happen soon. The tone is emphasized by “I’m going to” rather than “someday”.
A few places you really want to focus on syntax are at the beginning and endings of scenes, the dialogue, and on any important sentences. You know, the sentences that really give things away and twist around the plot. For example, the beginning of your scene should open with a hook, something to get the reader interested. So make sure your emphasis is where it will interest your reader the most.
The last sentence should leave your reader wondering so they will read more, so the emphasis will probably be more on the end of the sentence than the beginning. On important sentences, you want to make sure you are emphasizing the important parts of the sentence, not everything surrounding it. Emphasize the part of the sentence that makes that sentence vital.
Okay, it’s time for today’s challenge for you. Get out your scenes! Yes, hopefully you are still editing the one scene from the beginning, but we’ll get to that part in a minute. Take a look at your first sentence. Is the emphasis where you want it to be? If not, how can you fix that? Highlight other important sentences that are vital to making the scene make sense. This should include your last sentence as well. Now go through on those and figure out what is being emphasized. Figure out what the tones of those sentences are. If something seems off, like if the tones don’t contribute to your overall tone for the scene, then you should do a little editing.
When you are done, look back at the scene before you did any editing for tone. And then look at how much you’ve done and how much better the scene readers after all of these improvements. Good job! Maybe you can take something away from this little four-part tone adventure for the rest of your story. Keep these things in mind when you are going in and editing other scenes.
Don’t forget all of the components! Details, diction, imagery, and syntax. If you haven’t read the other three, they are right underneath this one on the blog.
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