Something that I’ve noticed about writing is that a lot of people have quite a bit of trouble writing down what they’re actually feeling. Or in other words, they have difficulty expressing themselves in written format. It makes sense, of course, since the vast majority of context is given through intonation, facial expressions, and a million other tiny things that our eyes and ears pick up on when we’re interacting with someone in person. For example, an “I’m fine” can mean quite an array of things, depending on the situation.
And therein lies the problem: how do we add tone in a seemingly toneless medium? Emoticons and the odd “lol” or “haha” work wonders in non-formal situation, but quickly fall apart when you’re writing for any serious situation. So what can we do?
Well, in literature, there’s this thing called, not surprisingly, the tone. It is, as you might have already figured out, the way that authors will convey those subtle differences that are otherwise lost in written speech, and it is generally done through word choice. And oh boy is word choice important! It’s what makes the difference between a phrase that seems cold and distant when you actually meant it to be fun and casual.
For example, let’s say you’re describing your night out to a friend over email. You can tell it as is, by saying something like, “I went out for food at the Thai place at noon, but the food was bad. After that, I went home with my friend to play some pool.”but that come out as being really formal and distant, like a business person doing a dull presentation. It can even make it look as if you didn’t have a good time, when you actually mean otherwise.
With a little bit of proper word choice, the problem can be easily solved. If you said, “We got really darn hungry, so we went to that new Thai place by the XYZ street, but oh gosh was that a mistake! The food was horrible! Thankfully, we went to play some relaxing pool after.” With a few extra words, it’s pretty clear that the tone is nice and relaxed, and it’s clear that you had a good time, regardless of the horrible food. The key words here are things like “darn” or “oh gosh”, which are always reserved for causal conversation, and they likewise always change your tone to a more casual one. Even using the word “horrible” instead of a more bland term like “bad” has an impact on your tone. After all, using the more neutral terms will make your tone seem more formal.
Of course, not every situation will be as easy as the example that I gave above, but being conscious of what words and their connotation will really go far when it comes to improving your tone. Hopefully it’ll help get your message across without a lot of headache and confusing. Now, word choice isn’t the only thing that dictates tone, but it is the biggest one.