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The elusive “tone”


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So I was thinking about this and how easily tone can be misinterpreted. I feel like these days, there are a lot of ways to help direct the tone of a post so that the other person reads it as it is meant to be read. 

 

For instance, the use or lack of punctuation. A comm thread in which a character doesn’t use these tells me more about the character. Or the use of bold, italics, or all caps. That also helps build a tone. 

 

I have a habit of using first caps on things that are meant to be Very Important. Like I’m giving it a title. 

 

What do you guys think of tone and how do you represent it?

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No, you got it! That's what I'm talking about, setting the tone of the post with the language and punctuation at your disposal. I feel like it's just as you described as well. If you establish the tone well, your post is less likely to be misinterpreted and the next poster will be able to carry on that tone (hopefully) in their post. I also feel like different characters carry different tones (which was what I was trying to express in my OP). 

 

Like the word choices people use can make the reader and other posters interpret a character differently. I feel like there are universal choices that bring about a certain feeling in MOST people but sometimes it's a little tricky to convey a certain tone. 

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It is very hard to convey tone accurately via the written word! In IC terms, I ask my players to try for quality over quantity. It's another reason that we don't mandate X number of posts to stay active. 

 

As far as OOC communications goes, my comment may not be popular. It seems like many people are looking for any tiny thing that they can get offended over and throw the drama llama fit. So many people feel like they have to walk on eggshells over this. There's no real solution for dealing with these persons - that I know of.

 

However, this is one of the reasons we all love the challenge of good RP!

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I have some characters that I just write differently than others which I think is a tone thing. Some are more in their head, so more of their impressions show through than the actual descriptions of their environments, some have ways of speaking or personal slang. some rely on gestures, or simply notice different things about their environments. one character may notice colors, others may see the people and ignore the environment. still another may be on his phone, and so, miss half the conversation and so on. Such details set what I emphasize in posts to set the type of character, and what their perceived take on the situation is.

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The number one thing I see missed to provide tonality of a situation or post is one of my favorite things about some of my roleplay partners (that I think I unintentionally lack on sometimes)!

 

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People understate their body language because they think it will be misinterpreted. "Gave a slight smile", "shrugged slightly", "shook her head slightly". I know I stated it in a thread about verbiage but "slights" and "kind ofs" give off the wrong vibe. I've taken to "shrugged one shoulder" for the most part instead of "half shrugged" WTF does half shrugged mean? One shoulder, both shoulders slightly inclined? WHAT DO YOU MEAN!!!!

 

It's a very common thing in text to that a lack of reply isn't enough. If my character says 'k' or 'okay' or similar there is a connotation to that. That is the tonality. It is a sort of finality.  Same for something like "fuck" or "oh shit". It provides the tonality without the description.

 

What's that term? The Pen is mightier than the sword or some shit?

 

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A lot of description can be just as good as a lack of description. You just have to choose where the emphasis is more important to get the idea across. It doesn't always come in LOADS AND LOADS of words. Sometimes it's something simple. Ask people like @Kit the Human who participate on my site. I describe the scene they need to know as they need to know it. If they need more than that they ask and most of the time it's not for information I have intentionally left undescribed it was more just "detail" work that I didn't think mattered in the moment.

 

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My personal favorite part of IC "tone" is changing up the way a character speaks.  I noticed relatively recently that while many of my characters talk a lot like me, some of them are much different. And the ones that are especially 'different' I consider to be my more developed characters.

 

I have an Agent Smith character. He's not very approachable.  Not here to socialize. So I write him stiffer, with no nonsense.  Short-spoken. He doesn't care. He is who he is. 

 

But I also have a twitchy character, too! He's small and sweet and excitable and pretty nervous too so I guess he tends to ramble and forget to breath in the middle of his sentences.... And sometimes trails off a bit... If he thinks he might be annoying you.... 

 

Those kinds of dialogue differences combined with the all important body language described above, and a good thesaurus to give more vivid descriptions of the environment, help create tone for me. 

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Yes! I love using dialogue to establish character voices. Some are assured and confident, some hesitant. 

 

If a character is from other regions or places, they’ll use slang or accents to show that. (Without getting too fancy.)

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One of my characters, you'll NEVER, EVER see her use a contraction in dialog. It's very subtle, but yet something that hasn't gone unnoticed by people who RP with her over a period of time. 

 

Then I also have a character whose dialog I write....well...I type her words the way my regional "accent" sounds to me. 
"Yeah so like, listen dude: I waz chillin' wit dhis Necromancer guy an'he TOTALLY lemme in onna little secret about dhose runes you've been collectin'."


It's a lot of fun making subtle changes between characters, and really gives an extra depth to the threads: it lets me feel like I'm not playing the same character 20 times if I give each one their own "voice". Not just for dialog, but for narration too (body language, body language, body language). 

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Someone once told me that tone is my strong suit in writing which, honestly, really surprised me because I thought all my characters came across as being written in much the same way and you couldn't really tell but, now that I feel I've improved as a writer, I can go back and see a lot of those little intricacies and how they were differentiated.

 

I have one character, for example, he's quite vain, he's very over-interested in his own appearance, and when I write as him, I have a tendency to focus a lot more on those little details about the way he looks. So instead of just saying he runs his fingers through his hair, I'll be very careful about describing things such as the colour of his hair or that he has long fingers and the like. I also have a habit of writing very long almost run-on sentences when my characters get stressed and instead of just using regular adjectives, I'll purposefully choose hyphenated longer ones to try and create a sort of sense of panic. 

 

In terms of dialogue, I'm not sure I do it as much as I do when it comes to description. There's always what I kind of consider the 'basics' in that dialogue can differentiate between different economic and regional backgrounds for characters. I suppose the most I do otherwise is I have one character who usually speaks in a very formal and stoic tone even when he's acting upset - he's very melodramatic - but when he is actually and genuinely upset about a situation, he will start to develop a stutter. And I think the way a quirk like that is written can really show in more detail how the character is feeling and set the scene better, because something like a nervous stutter and a tearful one can be completely different, so they do allow a bit of scene-setting through that.

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In my opinion, tone is super important in RP--not just in IC posts, but on the forum as a whole.

 

In posts, it'll help you get across so much of a character's personality and how a situation should go. You can turn something like a chance meeting at a cafe into anything from a meet cute, to awkward hell, to a forlorn reminder of how lonely a character has been, to all three of those just by changing up your writing. You can also loosely nudge other players towards certain actions in tone. I don't know if you've ever RPed with somebody whose entire post feels like it came out of an episode of Ouran High School Host Club, but it's SOMETHING, and it's all due to tone. I wouldn't reply to OHSHC-chan with the same tone and seriousness I would to somebody who writes more like George RR Martin, for example.

 

Regarding tone on the forum itself, it's up to the admin to set a precedent. You can allow certain kinds of backstories, characters, and so on, thereby setting the tone of member-created content. You can also set up the atmosphere by just using good tone in the rules and plot. I wish I could go deeper into that, but I don't have the patience to write an essay on establishing game tone through rules LOL

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On 3/29/2019 at 12:09 AM, msfoxtrott said:

Regarding tone on the forum itself, it's up to the admin to set a precedent. You can allow certain kinds of backstories, characters, and so on, thereby setting the tone of member-created content. You can also set up the atmosphere by just using good tone in the rules and plot. I wish I could go deeper into that, but I don't have the patience to write an essay on establishing game tone through rules LOL

 

THIS. So much yes! OOC tone is so important on the forum itself. If potential members come by and see you cursing up a storm or snarking in your rules, they're likely to skip your forum and go somewhere else where they'll be respected from the jump. As a forum staff, you want to be respectful, polite, and mature. If your tone in any of your forum's important documents says otherwise, that could hurt your forum's reputation (and even yours, depending on the extent it goes!). No one wants to join a forum where they'll be treated unkindly or feel uncomfortable. Chances are if your forum's rules, plot, etc. made them feel that way, then they ain't stickin around! 

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What I attempt to do IC is utilize the internal exposition to give more insight into the character. Often by doing that, the tone in how I write the character naturally shifts to something more organic to whichever character it is I am writing. If they are pompous, that will come out, if they are witty, that will come through, etc. The way in which I convey their feelings and emotions or inner thoughts -- such as the structure of the sentence, or what sorts of words are used (ie. impressive words you need a dictionary for or slang) -- tends to give a sense of the tone for that particular character. Likewise, this same sort of thing can be measured in dialogue, how a character carries themselves, or how they react to the world around them. For me, none of these are things meant to be told in ways that are bland and uninteresting. Rp isn't a textbook, it's a story; so I figure I may as well write it like one 😄

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So many interesting and fun comments! I love this thread. 

 

I personally enjoy trying to give each character their own lexicon and language level, but I think that has lest to do with tone and more to do with character voice.  Making sure, however, that tone is properly conveyed in RP is not so hard when you think of it: it's just a matter of using adjectives and adverbs a bit more profusely.  However IC tone conveyance is not my greatest concern: even the most inane writers across which I've written did a fairly good job of getting tone out properly for the purposes of the thread.

 

I think OOC tone in general is a much greater concern;  personally I find it difficult to tell if someone is joking, being sarcastic, or if they're being snippy, at times. That border can get blurry when strangers aren't using emojis or taking time to delineate their intent.  (With friends, it's different: their tone is acquired, so to speak.)  I do think using *action stars* helps, and so do emojis and gifs, if one is in a Discord channel. It helps keep things light and silly.

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