Read time – 5 mins.
Have you ever had someone react negatively to a text or email you sent and wondered what went wrong? Nine times out of ten it was because of how difficult it can be to convey tone in the written form. Maybe there was a time when you found yourself confused about why you ended up in an argument based on something that you said? Again, it’s likely that your tone was the problem, and not the content of what you shared.
In communication, we often put far too much emphasis on what we are saying when, in fact, tone can be everything. Mastering tone is the key to artful communication in both the spoken and written word. However, it’s especially vital in the written word when your reader can’t hear the subtle nuances behind what you are saying.
If you are writing a book, setting the right tone for your reader is crucial. There are so many different elements to consider that we’ve divided this article series into several parts so you can get some clarity around the essentials of tone, and apply it to writing a book (or other forms of written communication).
Difference Between Tone in the Spoken and Written Word
There are two types of tone, and we want to distinguish between them here.
1. The tone of voice that you use to convey a spoken message
This includes the pace of how you speak (fast or slow), the volume (loud or soft), the energy behind your words (flat or passionate), etc. It also includes the different words that you decide to emphasize.
2. The mood you create with your spoken or written word
This includes your choice of words and how you arrange them to create a mood or atmosphere. It’s a combination of the types of words you choose—whether they are words that instill hope or fear, for example—and the context within which you present them.
When you are writing a book, your tone can set your reader’s heart’s on fire. It can also shut them down. A successful author has to become masterful in creating mood and climate on the page. Just as a director of a movie is not only thinking of the words that the actors are saying, but also how the set, lighting, and music add to the ambiance of a film, so do you, too, need to consider the mood you are creating when you write.
Perhaps one of the most vital understandings about tone is that our spoken and written word conveys a different feeling. An example of this can be seen in the work of spiritual teacher Anthony de Mello. His book Awareness was crafted from an eight-hour workshop that he gave. The workshop was hysterically funny, but his light, humorous and heartfelt tone did not translate to the page and, although brilliant, the book reads more like a dry, spiritual scripture with no humor whatsoever. Perhaps you have experienced something similar if you created an audio recording that you tried to transcribe.
You can still use your transcribed spoken material for the content of your book, and many great leaders record their lectures, talks or workshops and craft them into writing, but if you are doing this, you need to ensure that what you have said translates well into the written form.
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Defining Your Audience Helps Set Your Tone
Most people imagine that writing a book starts with developing concepts or telling great stories. While these are essential elements of book writing, there’s a crucial step before you start. You need to figure out who the book is for, what their needs are, and why your book is going to meet those needs. One of the most common mistakes that a potential author makes is that, if asked the question, “Who is this book for,” they answer, “Everyone, from 18 to 80.” If your main audience are millennials, for example, then that’s going to require a totally different tone than if you are speaking to spiritual entrepreneurs or academics. So part of tone mastery is adjusting your tone to the needs of the reader you are reaching. Really considering the communication that is required in order to create a connection.
Finding Your Voice as a Writer
There is often a force behind how we speak and write that is so imperceptible that it can be difficult to pinpoint. Many factors contribute—where you are on your own life journey, how congruent you are with the words you are sharing, how authentically you are living what you are teaching, as well as how much personal power you feel you have in your self-esteem, confidence, and courage to bring your statement forward.
If there are any parts of you that are conflicted about what you are sharing, then the tone of your writing can feel off. If your words ring true to the core of your being and you can share them with tenacity and confidence, they will likely have a completely different impact on your audience.
The mood you are in will also affect your tone. Many great authors have experienced writing a section for their book while they were in a certain mood. It might feel good to write it at the time, but when they read it back it sounds off or unaligned with their message or the needs of their audience. So it’s crucial to read back what you have written when you are in a different mood, and be prepared to let it go if it doesn’t align with the overall mission of the book.
Part of tone mastery is your ability to engage emotions. If you are writing a nonfiction book that is designed to inspire change in others, then one of your core focuses is engaging the emotions of your reader. If you write a book that does not touch upon the emotional experience of your reader, however unique your concepts are, it will fall short of igniting a fire within them.
You need to inspire your audience beyond their apathy, fear, or inaction. You can start a fire in their hearts that makes them feel “Yes, this is possible. We can do this together. I can play a meaningful role in the times to come.” Part of your ability to ignite your audience will depend on your ability to engage their higher emotions, such as:
To be a catalyst for these qualities, you need to be in touch with them in yourself. To convey a vision of hope / faith in a future of greater equality / passion for your cause / inspiration to others to step up and take action, etc., it’s essential to mirror these qualities in your own inner experience so that they are authentically expressed in the tone of your written word.
In igniting these qualities you want to make sure you don’t ignore or gloss over the more difficult emotions your audience is experiencing. If you want to foster inspiration, hope, and faith, you would also want to touch upon:
any anger at the injustice your reader may be facing
any exhaustion, especially if they have been dealing with the same issues for a long time
any fear and disappointment that they may have encountered.
And so on.
You would balance out the vision of what is possible with the reality of the moment. Acknowledging and engaging with the full range of emotions in yourself is part of this. If you only communicate from the higher emotions and don’t acknowledge the weight of the issues that your audience carries in their hearts, your tone may appear too flighty and disconnected from the very challenges you are attempting to address and transform.
In part one of this article we’ve looked at the difference between your tone in the spoken and written word, setting the right tone for your audience, how your personal tone affects your writing, and engaging different emotions. In the second part of this article series we’ll look at how to use tone effectively to challenge your reader, some of the common pitfalls with tone, and whether to use a formal or informal tone for writing a book.
For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest thought-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 15 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the events of the last couple of years, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution supports thought-leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change.
You are a catalyst or visionary who is crafting an evolutionary message. You want to be part of a community that supports you to make a difference with your spoken and written word. Sign up to receive weekly blogs and updates that enable you to craft your unique message.