I’m struggling a lot with tone today. No, not my shower- or car-singing (always pitch-perfect, thanks very much). That is, the way I’m saying the things I’m trying to say. Or maybe it’s a struggle with voice. The two are interrelated but not interchangeable, which is irritating in practice and maddening to try to teach. Point is, the howler monkey of doubt is all up in my business about the words I used today and I can’t shut him up.
Accidentally Inspired is a whimsical kind of story about a whimsical kind of guy in a whimsical kind of situation. (See, that sentence right there is the kind of thing I’m talking about.) The story itself is playful and fun, so it needs to be told (correction, it BEGS to be told) in a playful, at times ridiculous kind of way. BUT (There is always a butt, and there is also always a but). The rules of proper writing, and good writing, and especially of intelligent and, probably, consumable writing, dictate that playful, whimsical, overworded writing gets treated with an axe rather than a razor. When I go through and edit, I’ll be cutting off limbs, not whiskers.
But I love my playful, too-verbose tone, the Id-Writer protests, it works for the story and it works for me and I LIKE It GOLDFINGER IT DON’T MAKE ME CHANGE IT. And I’m at war with myself, because on a lot of levels, I agree with him. However, the Id-Writer and the ego-writer will eventually have to sit down and share a conversation, and I’m afraid that when they do, I’ll need to hire a cleaning crew to get the blood off the walls. The ego-writer wants the book to be read, and to be accessible to everybody, and for people to love the story and the way that I tell it, but the Id-Writer only wants to tell the best fargoing story in the best fargoing way I know how to tell it. The Id-Writer swears a lot more, and is (probably) more likely to bludgeon the Ego-Writer with a keyboard or a hammer or in fact anything else that may be handy, including my own precious pseudoganglia. Are there pseudoganglia in the brain? I don’t know, I don’t do Science (see below).
The more I think about it, the more it dawns on me that this is probably a problem (a probable problem, whee) best left for Future Me to deal with, not that Past Me and Present Me aren’t adding to the steaming pile that is (will be) is inbox on the daily. Nonetheless, it’s bothering me now, and if it’s bothering me now, it’s gonna end up on the blarg, and here it is.
So how do I deal with voice and tone in the here and now? I have no fargoing idea. I hate to cop out, least of all on myself, but I really am at a loss as to how to fix this problem. The tone of a story isn’t just window dressing. It’s an integral part, a functioning limb in the Rube-Goldberg machine that is story. The story-bone’s connected to the tone-bone. (ahuh, huh. I said tone-bone.) Change the tone and you change the story. The Tell-Tale Heart, if told in a humorous fashion, could very well be a humorous story. Take the rhyme and meter out of Doctor Seuss and you’re left with a sharknado-ey yarn about a couple of bored kids and an asgard-hole of a cat and his two asgard-hole pets.
I guess that for lack of a better idea I’m just going to have to do with this problem what I do with 98 percent of other problems that have cropped up while writing this thing, which is make a note of it (see this blog entry), chuck it in Future Me’s landfill of an inbox, and allow my Id-Writer to toss back another creative beverage, press on writing, then run screaming madly into the night, leaving a trail of ink-blood and rent pages in his wake.
Say what you will, but that guy knows how to party.
If you’re reading this, help (Future) Me out. Any thoughts on how to clean up my tone and get all my overstatements under control without totally changing the feel of my piece?
(Sidenote). On the topic of I don’t do Science:
This weekend, while sharing dinner with my family, my engineer sister related a question from a very difficult engineer’s exam that she has just taken (results pending, but considering her average level of achievement, I imagine they’ll not only pass her but ask her to write the next version of the test). I’ll do my best. Say you have to replace 100 light bulbs in an apartment building. Each bulb has a 1 percent chance to be faulty before it’s plugged in. Say you take a random sample of five bulbs. What is the likelihood that the bulb you chose will be faulty? (I fully own that I may be remembering the question wrongly in order to make my answer seem righter. Sorry, sis.)
Easy, right? 1 percent means one in one hundred. Five bulbs means five one-in-one-hundred shots, which is to say five-in-one-hundred, which is to say one in twenty, which is to say, FIVE PERCENT. This math I did in my head quickly before announcing my findings to the table.
My dad, a math teacher, just shook his head. My sister, the engineer, did the same, and then said, “That’s cute,” before sharing a laugh with my dear, loving wife. (NOT THAT SHE KNOWS MATH EITHER.) Hear me now, and believe me later. You don’t tell a thirty-year-old man that he’s cute. That’s a good way to get a dirty look and a sternly-worded blarg post written about you. If said thirty-year-old man does or says something that is so oversimplified and ridiculous that it doesn’t make sense to explain to him how he’s wrong (I’m not saying this is ME, okay, I’m just SAYING), the way to handle it is by nodding politely at him and telling him yes, not only is that correct, but you’ve brought a new level of simplicity to what I wrongly assumed was a very complicated problem.
Take that, sis. You may be smarter at every turn (including the turns I haven’t thought of yet, because you took Calculus in college while I took creative writing) but you’ve now been lambasted in the immortal turns of the internet. LAMBASTED I SAY.