Welcome back for another episode of the art of screenwriting. Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite topics: TONE.  

Now, Tone has many definitions. When talking about the tone in a story, we are indicating a particular feeling. It can be sad, angry, anxious, passionate - or formal.  When talking about tone in filmmaking, we are referring to how the audience feels about that subject or message. 

Let’s say for example that you were on the phone with your best friend and she tells you about the movie she’s watching. She says the main character is a killer clown who decides to go to law school. You assume it’s a horror film but when you hear her laugh you’re confused. She tells you it’s the funniest movie she’s ever seen which makes you think this isn’t a horror film but a comedy. You perceive this because of the tone. The tone of the movie is not one of fear or terror but light-heartedness and humor. Basically, as a writer, your tone will be reflective of your mood as you are writing your script. 

Still not understanding? Here’s some examples. Now, in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, this particular scene starts with Lisa confiding in her sister about her abusive husband. Sounds like a scene that would be pretty tense. However, once Madea comes into play, things go from tense to comical. The tone shifts dramatically and the audience goes from feeling a sense of anger and uncertainty to laughing at the ridiculous thought of pouring hot grits onto someone's face. 

As a writer, it’s your job to take the audience on a wide range of emotions. You have the power to change the tone of the scene and this is exactly what this scene accomplished. 

Now, tone can be achieved through many ways. You can focus on your word choice, the viewpoint of your character or your sentence construction. 

We create or alter tone by how the character treats the conflict as well. How they interact with other people, unwanted circumstances or themselves directly affects the tone of the story. Tone can also be manipulated. 

Your character would probably find it cute if their significant other brought them flowers on Valentine’s Day. However, they wouldn’t be as amused if they received those same flowers from their stalker. 

For example, in this scene of ‘Dumb and Dumber’, everyone finds Lloyd hilarious, even when he passes gas. The tone of this scene is light and amusing but it’s not so amusing in ‘Rain Man’ when Raymond does the exact same thing. See the difference in tone? The fart from the first clip elicited laughter but the second clip elicited annoyance. As a writer, it’s critical to know how your character will be influenced - especially by touch, taste, smell and sounds. This gives your character depth and adds layers to your story.  

What you choose not to add is just as important as what you do. If your character is afraid of being a parent and decides not to hold their baby, this can show that the character is detached, guarded or anxious, thus creating a tone that matches that emotion. 

If a character is desperate to fall in love, that can create a tone of desperation or intense passion. As a general writing rule, make sure to convey your tone through the character’s attitude in every scene. This will humanize them and will allow your audience to want to root for them. The more we know how someone feels or doesn’t feel, the more we want to finish watching your movie. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that your character should stay in a state of anger for the duration of the entire movie. That’s exhausting to watch. However, even in a movie where two characters are continually arguing like “Malcom and Marie”, we see moments of intense desire, furious, belligerent outburst, as well as reassuring platitudes which give the audience a glimpse of the different sides to these characters. 

What I’m trying to say is, we need a tone arch just as much as a story arch. We need to see Mulan be worried about her father before we see her gain inner strength and bravery to take his place in the army. We have to see your character go from defeat to freedom - from inner turmoil to inner peace. Basically, a story with no tone is detrimental to an amazing script. But be careful because too much change in the tone of your movie can be just as confusing as too little tone. We don’t want to confuse the audience.  

Here’s a good example of tone. In this scene, Miranda Priestly is commanding and intimidating. It’s not confusing to the audience what we’re getting ourselves into as we watch. We immediately understand that this woman is important because of how she makes other people feel less than. How does the tone change over the course of your movie? Does your character become soft or do they never learn their lesson? If you can answer these questions, your tone will follow. 

Now, how can you get the ball rolling and create a script full of beautiful tone? Well, once you start writing and create dialogue that captures your character’s specific voice, you can move on to the details. Details are extremely important in establishing tone. Do they hold their wedding ring when they're nervous or upset? Does the smell of coffee calm them? Are they embarrassed of their dad when they drive them to school? The more you create your world, the more tone can create itself. 

And finally, do a tone check! Have someone you trust read your screenplay and ask them what they thought the tone was. The more people who understand your vision, the better. 

Today we learned about the art of tone. I hope you learned something today. If you want to help us, please leave a comment on what videos you’d like to see next and make sure to like, share and subscribe for more videos like these! And remember, knowledge is power… the more you know, the better you’ll be. Peace.