I have read stories and books that miss one very important thing. Setting up an emotionally charged statement before it happens. When I’m reading dialogue it can be frustrating to get to the end of a sentence only to discover my inner-voice was way off on the tone that the character was meant to be speaking in. I call this emotional tone delay. I read said dialogue, find out the tone I imagined was wrong then have to either read it or mentally replay it in the correct tone. If it happens too often I like the book less and less and less.
How it sounds in my head as the writer isn’t necessarily the way it sounds in the readers. This is why it is so important to create a welcoming world for the reader to jump into. Show them tone and emotion instead of bludgeoning them with a tag.
“Really?” Amber said with excitement.
By putting the tag at the end, what ‘voice’ I read that in was voided. As a reader that can be annoying and then all voices sound out deadpan and the emotion is applied after the fact. It makes for some terrible visualization and fantasy.
Amber grinned and bounced on the balls of her feet. “Really?”
Sarcasm is often lost in print if I want to convey a tone of voice shows the tone by posturing the character. My rule I’ve adopted from others: Don’t get lazy and tell the tone.
“Really?” Dale said sarcastically.
Set it up properly so the reader knows it’s sarcasm or tags it with an appropriate action.
Dale inhaled slowly. “Really?” He rolled his eyes.
Creating the tone before the character speaks is important. This can be as long as a paragraph or as short as a few words. Setting the reader up for a smooth transition to the words lets them enjoy the story without having to “re-hear” it in their head before moving on. So what happens if the set up is the wrong emotion conveying action?
Scott tilted his head to the side. “Really?”
That could be humor, anger, annoyance, sarcasm or maybe tease. Normally in a story, there would be leading up to a statement like that. But I’ll pretend there isn’t and Scott’s statement is the start of the conversation or scenario. While tilting the head can convey emotion it is often a quirk or habit that without context could mean anything.
Scott crossed his arms, tilted his head to the side with his brow furrowed. “Really?”
Sure it get’s wordy, however, if I really want to show the reader how Scott feels then I will make it work. I might even take the head tilting out unless I have that as Scott’s quirk. I wouldn’t want everyone going around gesturing the same way.
Scott tilted his head to the side as a sly grin spread across his face. “Really?”
Scott’s head tilted to the side as he stifled a snicker. “Really?”
Scott’s fist slammed on the table then he tilted his head. “Really?”
If the tone isn’t foreshadowed by action before the statement, the reader will likely project their own emotion into it. That may or may not work out and may or may not put them off the story which in turn will mean devastation for the review and reader’s opinion of the story and author. I can write words and have my own idea how they are supposed to sound, but if I don’t let the reader in on it, then I’ve let them down.
My advice about acting out emotion.
I do this to keep the reader engaged, I highly recommend it. Don’t let the reader decide what ‘vocal’ tone the characters are using, show them so the meaning behind the word isn’t lost. After all, you don’t want a character to move when you mean swoon.
A post or two from a while back.