Reflections of Tone

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by Jennifer Sienes

I’ve written enough now to realize that there’s been a pattern in not only what I write, but in how I write – no, I didn’t get the Tread Desk I’ve had my eye on for some time-I’m referring to that somewhat elusive tone. At the end of my first year as a middle school teacher, I gathered with all the other (much more seasoned) teachers to score the school-wide essay contest. One of the pesky ten areas to receive a score was TONE. How could I judge what I didn’t understand?

Flash forward more years than I want to admit. I’ve since attended many conferences where I’ve benefited from classes, and my work has been picked apart by professional writers and editors. I’ve been a part of talented writing groups and critiqued one-on-one with people who study the craft and take it as seriously as I do. I now understand what tone is-and how it can have such a huge impact on story.

And on life.

My first novel, though saturated in hope, was a cathartic exercise as it was inspired by my brother’s suicide. The tone was somewhat dark and heavy, because I felt dark and heavy (spiritually speaking) at the time. I couldn’t align my brother’s faith with his actions – and neither could my main character make sense of her husband’s choice to end his life, leaving his family lost and broken. My second novel, inspired by my daughter’s experience with traumatic brain injury, didn’t carry the same heaviness because I clearly saw that God’s hand in her life increased her faith in Jesus. And what momma doesn’t want that for her child?

The idea for my WIP came while writing my first novel – that dark and heavy place – because my WIP heroine had a minor role in that book. She was written out in the second draft, but the essence of her character remained with me, like someone you meet briefly and can’t get out of your head. I had a synopsis and a plan. Yet, I discovered as I started writing, that the tone wasn’t anything like my first or second novel. It was…snappy and light…fun. It became evident when my agent asked for a book proposal that my synopsis was still cloaked in wool when the tone was a stunning, spring day. It no longer fit the story. And that’s how I feel about my life right now.

I have to wonder if it’s the same for other writers. The other day, my daughter shared with me that her college English class had just read The Tell-Tale Heart. “The character in that story had issues,” she said. I’ve read the story numerous times, as it was in the eighth-grade anthology when I was teaching. “Poe had issues,” I responded. And I recalled how he died alone, penniless and seemingly unsuccessful. Didn’t the darkness of his writing reflect his own broken journey?

So, my question to you is this: How does the tone of your writing reflect your life? Or does it?

Jennifer SienesJennifer Sienes has a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in education. She was a 2013 ACFW Genesis Semi-Finalist and has three short stories published in the Inspire Faith anthology from Inspire Press. Her short story A God-Colored Lens will appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury due to be released in June. She is represented by Karen Ball of the Steve Laube Literary Agency. Connect with her at

Comments 0

  1. Jennifer, the tone of my writing definitely tends to reflect my life. When I started my WIP I happened to be reading a book about a subject that invariably worked its way into the life of one of my characters. Even what I hear on the news can influence a project. My recent blog post came about because of the frustration I felt about a bullying incident. Thankfully there are plenty of the times when lovely things influence my writing too.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

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