Posts Tagged comedy

Clashing tones: a peril when we spend a long time writing a book

frankensteinI see a lot of manuscripts by writers who tell me they’ve been honing their book for years, sometimes even decades. Often these are first novels, slowly maturing as the writer feels their way – not just with that story’s material but with all the controls of their writing craft, and the influences they’re absorbing from other fiction they read. Even their idea of what kind of writer they are might change.

And quite often, I can see these phases in the novel itself, like a Frankenstein monster. In some paragraphs the narrator sprouts a personality, and starts to present a humorous view of proceedings that wasn’t in the narrative before. Sometimes the plot events or dialogue abruptly switch to the conventions of a different genre, or the writer’s vision for the characters seems to change from tragic to dreamy.

When I flag them in my report, the writer usually says that the line or section came from an earlier version, or they were unsure whether to include it or not.

Mood to mood

It’s inevitable that we’ll write or edit in different moods from one day to the next. That’s fine; we’re not machines, after all. And we often get our best revelations from messing and experimenting. But we don’t want to develop a patchwork of tones.

One of the many things we must do as we edit is to create an even tone to give the reader a consistent experience – or at least make sure we don’t change it unintentionally. That doesn’t mean we can’t create characters who are contradictory or multifaceted. Or narrative styles that are flexible and supple. But we must watch out for the moments when our narrative veers too far from variety and we have slipped into a different version of the book.

This is difficult to spot. If we’ve been working on a book for a long time, we’ll have got used to assembling it piecemeal from bits we like. As we read through, we know what it all means and we don’t realise when we’re giving the reader an unwanted mental gear change. We become tone deaf to our book.

We need to edit with an awareness of this moment. If at any point we catch ourselves making a mental hop to process a sentence, this could be because its tone doesn’t quite belong.

This kind of editing is usually only possible in the late stages of the novel, when we’re happy and have stopped experimenting. It isn’t until then that we have the coherent vision of our work, the deep knowledge of what we are trying to do, and therefore the certainty to feel when something fits and something doesn’t. Or, indeed, the strength to let go of the parts that don’t fit – the evergoing purge of darlings.

But if you learn to recognise the shadows of former versions of your novel, you’ll give the reader a smoother ride.

Thanks for the pic petsadviser.com

guarmasterNEWS If anyone’s in or near London, I’m teaching in the one-day Guardian self-publishing seminar, along with Joanna Penn, Orna Ross, Ben Galley and Polly Courtney. Funnily enough, most of them have been or will be guests on The Undercover Soundtrack – except for Joanna, who writes to the sound of rain. I’m working on her to write me an Underwater Soundtrack. I’m teaching the module on print books, and other modules include marketing, formatting and using social media.

Back to tone! Do you have problems with your novels shifting tone? How have you solved them? Let’s discuss

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Night music for writers: special at the Edinburgh ebook festival

edfestWherever you are, you can be at the Edinburgh ebook festival. It’s a two-week programme of online bookish events starting at 11am every morning with a short story and rolling on until 11pm with reflective conversations about reading and writing. That’s 11am BST, Being Scots Time. There are author events, residencies where writers discuss issues for publishing and creatives, workshops and a daily sheeping forecast. When in Scotland…

Each night at 10pm I’m providing the music via selected reruns of The Undercover Soundtrack. So here I am, explaining to what an Undercover Soundtrack is and what listeners can expect. Do come over.

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‘A sense of trying to work something out’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Joanne Phillips

for logoIt’s Morrissey all the way for my guest this week. The contrast of dark lyrics and lifting melody became the sense of threat that runs through her novel. The force of his ‘take-me-or-leave-me’ personality becomes a main character’s demeanour. Even better, it states a principle for her own writing. (If I may bring in a touch of Frank Sinatra via Fleetwood Mac, writers do it our own way.) She is contemporary women’s fiction novelist Joanne Phillips and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.

IN OTHER NEWS I’m taking a short break from blogging this weekend. There are guest posts bubbling up here and there, and if one surfaces in the next few days I’ll pop back to share it about. If not, I’ll definitely see you this time next week with another Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘Music and creativity is for everyone – and life can be a musical’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Cally Phillips

for logoMy guest this week has always made up lyrics, whether alternate versions of existing songs or not-terribly-serious inventions of her own. She says she wishes life was more like a musical, where people might burst out singing if the fancy takes them. Her deep-held belief that life should be lived with lusty vocals led to a collaboration with a theatre group for adults with learning disabilities, and, by circular means, a novel that commemorates the experience – A Week With No Labels. She is screenwriter, playwright and novelist Cally Phillips and she’s on the Red Blog with her very individual Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘I let the song dictate what I left unsaid’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Reb MacRath

for logoMy guest this week was an award-winning horror genre writer, but turned indie to try to write the sort of novel he loved to read. For several years he published nothing while he struggled with his new challenge – a high-octane blend of suspense, swagger, humour and romance. Looking for a way to humanise an unlikable hero he found a guiding light in Rod Stewart’s interpretations of American classics – a rocker thug who’d matured with surprising tenderness. He is Reb MacRath and he’s on the Red Blog today with the Undercover Soundtrack for Southern Scotch.

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‘Writers and songwriters can create memorable shared works’ – The Undercover Soundtrack inside out: SJ Tucker

‘The more writers and songwriters cross-pollinate and cross-promote our work, the more people will find out about us’

This weekend I’m celebrating the anniversary of the launch of My Memories of a Future Life. And since the story explores reincarnation in reverse, I thought I’d turn the Undercover Soundtrack inside out and talk to musicians who have been inspired by novels.

Today I’m hosting SJ Tucker, who has a long-running collaboration with award-winning fantasy novelist Catherynne M Valente. Their partnership goes way beyond a song for a book trailer; Cat writes song hints into her manuscripts for Sooj to find, and they tour together with their very own multimedia song and story circus. Sooj is talking about all that – and how she turns a novel into songs – today on the Red Blog.

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‘The Greatest Love Songs In The World…was the most awful writing track’ – Fiona Walker, The Undercover Soundtrack

My guest this week is a multi-bestselling author of romantic novels, once dubbed ‘The Jilly Cooper of the Cosmo generation’. Her characters frequently express themselves with a lusty song or two and she writes to a soundtrack that never appears on the page. But, as you see from the post title, there are some choices that are not as suitable as you’d think… She’s Fiona Walker and she’s on the Red Blog sharing her Undercover Soundtrack

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