Last week, I hit a bit of a brick wall with my WIP. Right at the end, too. At first, I thought it was fear, but then I realized that I wasn’t sure about the tone of my story, and that was throwing me off. Is this a romping romantic adventure, or is it a serious story that plumbs emotional depths?

This is especially tough for me because endings are usually the easy part for me. I can see the finish line, and I’m running toward it so fast I’m practically a speeding blur.

Tone is important to the climax and resolution of our stories. This year, I’m determined not just to write more drafts, but to write better drafts—in other words, first drafts that, while they’re still rough, don’t require major, sweeping rewrites or, worse, starting from scratch. Maybe I was a little overly ambitious to think that by plotting and planning, I could avoid the same sort of major overhauls previous manuscripts have required. (Hey, it’s live and learn, right?)

Without fully knowing the tone of our stories, it’s hard to keep writing. Resolutions are especially hard to get right without knowing the tone because the climax is where all the story threads meet.

It’s sort of a chemical reaction. If we don’t know the tone of the story, how do we know what will happen when we mix those things together? Will it be a hot, foamy mess or a massive explosion?

What can we do when this happens? I’m trying a few different approaches:

Identify the appropriate tone for the story.

Write a short sentence or paragraph about the overall feel/tone of our story. Is it a lighthearted, funny story? Is it gritty and dark? Is it a cozy mystery? Try to summarize this “feeling” in one or two sentences.

Daily Writing Tips offers this helpful tip:

The genre often determines the tone — thrillers use tight, lean phrasing, romances (hearty adventures as well as adventures of the heart) tend to be more effusive and expressive, comedies more buoyant, and so on. Some writing guides suggest that if you’re unsure about what tone to adopt for fiction, you visualize the book as a film — doesn’t everybody do that anyway these days? — and imagine what emotions or feelings its musical soundtrack would convey.

Read a few stories that have a tone similar to the one we’re aiming for.

Once we’ve settled on the appropriate tone, it helps to identify similar stories. Read closely and notice how all the different aspects of the story—the dialogue, the characterization, the setting, the description, the word choice—help to create the tone.

Identify where the tone is working in the story.

Forget about where the tone isn’t working. Where is it working? For example, I feel like the first chapter of my WIP sets the tone I want to convey in the rest of the story, and there’s a scene in the middle that has really snappy dialogue and great pacing that reflect what I’m looking for. Identifying and rereading those scenes can help us carry that tone through the next scene we’re working on.

Note: Plenty of authors advise not rereading while you’re writing a first draft. That’s great advice and probably works for a lot of people, but it’s not for me. Maybe it’s not for you either. For example, right now I know what I need to write. I know that I could sit down and write the ending. I also know that, until I get my bearings, that’s not the correct course of action—for me. Pressing pause for a few days won’t hurt my story or my process, and in fact, will probably help me avoid the worst of those massive rewrites.

Midweek ROW80 check-in

1ROW80Logocopy.) Finish a draft of Good, Old-Fashioned Magic: Wrote 972 words. Hopefully I start writing again later this week.

2.) Reading to hone my craft: Finished reading “2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love” by Rachel Aaron. I definitely recommend it. I also started the second to last chapter of Julia Cameron’s “Walking in This World.”

3.) Blog at least two times a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays: On target.

4.) Check in on Twitter daily and on WANA Tribe at least once/week: On target.

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday: On target.

6.) Super-secret project: Write two articles/posts each week for that project. No progress on this front. I did write an article to submit to another publication—that sort-of counts, right? 😉

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

What do you do when you’re struggling with finishing a story? Any advice for fellow writers on nailing the tone of a story? Do you worry about tone in a first draft, or is that more of a second draft concern for you? Do you write your first drafts without stopping?