Sept. 22, 2014
Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts
Mistake Number Three: Writing a Negative Tone throughout the Story
This is the third blog discussing these common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres:
Too much description and narration
Switching viewpoints in the same scene
A negative tone throughout the story
Infallible or underdeveloped characters
Stilted or unnatural dialogue
No significant conflict
Weak transitions between paragraphs
Passive verbs instead of active verbs
Lack of sensory detail
Lack of emotion or action
Of the twelve common mistakes we are reviewing on this list, the negative tone or mood is probably the one that needs the least explanation. It’s quite the simple matter.
Developing your own tone or mood in your manuscript really involves your careful choice of words, mostly adjectives. If your goal is to create an antagonist as a main character, then you’ll have to take care to use numerous negative adjectives in your description of that character. You will also have to develop some positive quality in that main character that will make your reader like or, at least, tolerate him/her, or your reader won’t finish your book.
Think of some excellent books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen where the main character is hateful, murderous, or just downright nasty. How about Scarlet O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND? KING KONG? GODZILLA? THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME? As much as we disliked these main characters when we met them, there was something, if only one quality, that made them endearing so that deep down in the recesses of our hearts, we were hoping they’d win in the end. Now, analyze why we as readers or movie viewers felt like that.
The reason we had not written these characters off in the first scene and either threw the book away or walked out on the movie is because of the clever writing by the authors or playwrights. We don’t have the time or the space to take excerpts from these writings and study them. But if you do your own research in any books you read, you’ll soon find either clever writing that wins you over or flat writing that fails to develop a character’s full “character.” If you fail to insert, even in the least bit, something positive about your main protagonist or antagonist, you’re also going to fail to arouse the desired emotion you are seeking, possibly compassion for the Scarlet O’Hara in your book. If you want your reader to hate your main character, then trash your main character, but be careful. Many fans of fiction are not fond of hateful characters with no redeeming qualities.
Now, if your hero is fighting against a hateful, murderous antagonist, and your hero must win, then you need not present any positive qualities for that antagonist. In plots like this, make your antagonist as hateful as you can. That only adds to the positive qualities your hero will portray in his quest to defeat his hated foe.
Concerning plots and story endings, again, choosing the proper words will set the tone or mood for your world.
In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in “dark” characters and plots in both books and movies. I don’t care for that genre, so I can’t comment on any such as THE HUNGER GAMES or all the vampire books and movies like TWILIGHT. But, if you’re a fan of such, again, analyze how the main characters are portrayed. Do you develop a fondness for them even though they are evil or do you hate them to the death and cheer when they meet their end?
It all depends on the choice of words the authors have used to describe them.
So, do some analyzing of best sellers then spend some time on your own works. Decide what kind of mood or tone you want and dig out your thesaurus.
P.S. For a list of positive and negative mood and tone words, check out this website. It might just give you some fuel for the fire you’re setting under your next hateful antagonist.