Three Mistakes in Tone

One of the most common problems I see with new writers is a mistake in tone.  You know what I mean if you’ve ever played in a band.  A new kid comes in, you’re trying to play a song, and he blats out a sour note on a trumpet.  The same thing happens in writing.

It usually happens because the writer wants so badly to impress the reader that he tries too hard, thus calling attention to himself and sounding a sour note.

Over-exaggeration is one form that this takes.  For example, the writer might want to put a character in gripping danger, so he might say, “The crocodile opened a mouth as wide as the Nile.”

Well, that’s exaggeration.

Usually the writer will continue exaggerating, telling us that the crocodile is a “perfect predator,” “honed by a three hundred million years of evolution,” “with bullet-proof armor” and so on.  But really it’s just an oversized lizard.

The writer doesn’t understand that truth can be terrifying in fiction.  If you give us the right details of sight, sound, smell, and texture, creating the perfect descriptions, you can bring the crocodile to life, and you don’t have to exaggerate.  They’re scary enough.

In fact, with an over-exaggerated description, the reader is silently thinking, Yeah, right.  And because they know that you’re stretching the truth, instead of creating greater danger, you may be undercutting your work, actually reducing the sense of fear that you’re trying to engender.

Maudlin Prose.  You can also ruin your tone when you’re trying to arouse strong sympathy for a character.  Perhaps your heroine Penelope starts out in a story doing just fine, and then her boyfriend dumps her, her kitten dies, her evil stepmother tries to sell her as a whore, and she discovers that the pimple on her face is filled with flesh-eating bacteria.

Somehow it seems that when an author tries to overemphasize a character’s problems, they just start piling them up until they sound absurd.

Now, in real life, a person can indeed have problems stack up until they are overwhelming.  I was once reading about albinos in Tanzania who are hunted and killed because the locals believe that they’re reincarnated ghosts.  A young albino girl with skin cancer was attacked by her father and a bunch of machete-wielding men.  It turns out that witchdoctors like to make potions out of the albinos’ body parts, which can sell for up to $75,000 on the black market.  I can imagine that if I tried to write a story about that 14-year-old girl, it might sound maudlin even if I didn’t exaggerate her problems at all.

But that’s the point: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  A true story written as fiction can feel contrived.  Just because something happened in real life, doesn’t mean that it should happen in fiction.

Experimentation. When you were a kid and were first asked to paint a picture, there’s a good chance that you took a big brush and smeared it across the canvas, just to see what it would look like.  Very often, writers will do the same thing.

For example, a writer might be composing a scene where a young man is visiting a girlfriend in the hospital.  As the boys gets there, the writer might imagine an off-color joke that the boy could tell—perhaps something about her backless hospital gown—and so the writer puts the joke into the story.  Heck, maybe this leads to a few morbid jokes about dying.

The question is, does that jive with the tone that the artist might originally have been striving to create?  Is it a viable diversion?  Probably not.  The lines were written on a whim.

So the writer probably needs to take them out.

There are other ways that an author can mess up the tone of his work, and I’m sure that some of you will mention them.  The point is, you need to take control of the tone of your piece.  Before I ever begin writing a scene, I sit and think about what type of emotions I would like to evoke, and I think about what images and sounds and thoughts and actions will blend well to create that emotional effect.  Only when I have a plan to reach my objective do I begin to write.


Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter

Two days left in the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter! We’re so close. Only $2,000 left to go. Help us out! Spread the word! Back the project! Here are some highlights:

$15 for all three new anthologies in ebook!

$45 for all three new anthologies in special kickstarter edition!

$50 for ALL of ZNB’s anthologies in ebook!

$60 for all three new anthologies in ebook and special kickstarter edition!

$200 for ALL of ZNB’s anthologies in special kickstarter edition!

Plus other great rewards, including tuckerizations, signed copies of anchor author books, signed copies of Faith Hunter books, stuffed animal editors with ZNB kerchiefs, and more with add-ons!

So close!

Anchor Authors: Gerald Brandt, William C. Dietz, Db Jackson, Chris Kennedy, Kay Kenyon, Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, Seanan McGuire, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Steve Perry, Jacey Bedford, Gini Koch, Juliet E McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, Kari Sperring, David B. Coe, James Enge, David Farland, Esther Friesner, Howard Andrew Jones, Violette Malan, Jean Marie Ward, Ashley McConnell, Walter H. Hunt

Visit the Kickstarter here!

Zombies Need Brains Submission Guidelines

We have released the submission guidelines for Zombies Need Brains’ current Kickstarter! Please note, WE WILL ONLY HAVE AN OPEN CALL IF THE KICKSTARTER REACHES ITS GOAL! We’re close, which is why we are releasing the submission guidelines, but please boost the signal on the Kickstarter to make certain we reach our goal. You can find the guidelines below:

THE RAZOR’S EDGE, GUILDS & GLAIVES, and SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR anthology Kickstarter is nearing its goal! If we can reach $20K by Noon, September 28th, EST, then there will be an open call for submissions for the remaining slots in the anthologies. If you have a story idea that fits one of the anthology themes, write it up, revise it, polish it, and send it in for consideration. (You do NOT need to back the Kickstarter to submit a story to the open call.) And now, the submission guidelines:


Zombies Need Brains LLC is accepting submissions to its three science fiction and fantasy anthologies THE RAZOR’S EDGE, GUILDS & GLAIVES, and SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR. Stories must be submitted in electronic form as an attachment with the title of the story as the file name in .doc or .docx format. The header of the email should include the name of the anthology the submission is for along with the title of the submission (for example: WERE-: WereJellyfish Gone Wild!). The content of the email should also include which anthology the manuscript is intended for. Please send multiple manuscripts in separate emails. Manuscripts should be in manuscript format, meaning double-spaced, 12pt font, standard margins on top, bottom and sides, and pages numbered. Please use New Times Roman font. The first page should include the Title of the story, Author’s name, address, and email, and Pseudonym if different from the author’s real name. Italics and bold should be in italics and bold.

Stories for this anthology must be original (no reprints or previously published material), no more than 7,500 words in length, and must satisfy the theme of the anthology.

THE RAZOR’S EDGE is to feature science fiction or fantasy stories that explore the fine line between a rebel and an insurgent. It is a military science fiction and fantasy anthology. We are attempting to fill half of the anthology with science fiction stories, and half with fantasy stories. Stories featuring more interesting settings and twists on the typical themes will receive more attention than those that use standard tropes. In other words, we don’t want to see 100 stories dealing with the general fighting insurgents who joins their cause at the end. If we do, it’s likely that only one, at most, would be selected for the anthology. So be creative, choose something different, and use it in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

GUILDS & GLAIVES is to feature sword & sorcery stories where a guild is featured somewhere in the story. Obviously most such stories will be fantasy, but we are interested in science fiction takes on this theme. Stories featuring more interesting takes on the guilds, and twists on how they are integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with the standard thieves guild or assassins guild. So be creative and use your guild in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR is to feature stories where the time-traveling Urbar, first used in the anthology AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE URBAR, is a central part of the plot. The story may start in the bar, end in the bar, or be in the bar somewhere in the middle, but at some point a significant plot point must involve the Urbar. Stories featuring more interesting historical settings for the bar, and twists on how the bar is integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more standard uses of the bar, or where the bar is only incidental to the rest of the story. So be creative and use bar in an unusual and unexpected way, preferably in an unusual or unexpected era of history. In particular, you cannot use the same time period used in the anthology AFTER HOURS or that will be used by an anchor author of the current anthology. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

The deadline for submissions is December 31st, 2017. Decisions on stories should be completed by the end of February 2018. Please send submissions to contact@zombiesneedbrains.com. You will receive a receipt email within a few days of receiving the submission and having it filed for consideration. Notices about decisions on the stories will be sent out no later than the end of March 2018.

If your story is selected for use in the anthology, you should expect a revision letter by the end of April 2018. Revisions and the final draft of the story will be expected no later than the end of May 2018. These dates may change due to the editors’ work schedules. Zombies Need Brains LLC is seeking non-exclusive world anthology rights (including electronic rights) in all languages for the duration of one year after publication/release of the anthology. Your story cannot appear elsewhere during that year. Pay rate will be an advance of a minimum of 6 cents per word for the short stories. For each additional $10,000 raised above the Kickstarter minimum of $20,000, we will increase this advance pay rate by 1 cent per word. The anthology will be published as an ebook and an exclusive mass market paperback edition, distributed to the Kickstarter backers. The book would be available after that to the general public in ebook and trade paperback formats. Advances would be immediately earned out by the success of the Kickstarter. Royalties on additional sales beyond the Kickstarter will be 25% of ebook cover price and 10% of trade paperback cover price, both split evenly (not by word count) between the authors in the anthology and the editors of the anthology.

Questions regarding these submission guidelines should be sent to contact@zombiesneedbrains.com. Thank you.

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