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The relative importance of tone

Tone tends to be very important to me when it comes to whether or not I can become absorbed in a given piece of media. By tone, I mean the overall feeling and vibe a piece gives off, plus the attitude they take towards their story or subject matter. Embracing the right tone for the right story is something I care very deeply about, and can make the difference between obtaining my buy-in to the tale you're telling or shutting out my sympathy completely.

This can have an even more significant effect when I'm already invested in a property. For example, contributing to my notorious pickiness about fan fiction is that if I feel a fic has a tone that doesn't fit properly with the original, I usually cannot get into it at all. I guess it doesn't necessarily have to reproduce the same tone exactly, but unless it feels compatible, it just doesn't work for me. Similarly, in a series, if later installments go too far off the tone, or embrace a tone that doesn't gel with earlier ones, I get skeptical and put off.

Recently I experienced this most strongly (at least in the anticipation) of Guardians of the Galaxy. The Marvel movies have generally had a light tone that was not SO frivolous as to cut off drama, which I've always thought worked for them. When Guardians was announced, I was seriously doubting that it was going to work in context with the rest of the series. It pushed the boundaries of the silliness and weirdness allowed by the series, and I thought it was going to be really ATONAL, disrupting the vibe the world had established. I was surprised to find that Guardians worked, even with the tone shift, probably mostly because it wasn't quite as exaggerated as I thought it would be, and because it existed at such a remove from the other stories, a literal galaxy away.

I am still doubtful of when the Guardians stuff bleeds into the already-established-on-Earth stuff. I still don't quite buy the notion of Rocket Raccoon existing in the same universe as Jessica Jones [Spoiler (click to open)]torturing and executing the man who raped her. Though to be honest, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are a fair bit darker than the films ever got, which is a tone shift of another kind. I guess when I get dramatically invested, I'm more likely to buy things getting a bit darker than getting sillier. That may just be my personal bias.

But it's something to think about in my own work. It occurred me to that maybe my silly Woodhouse parody larp Woodplum House could be part of the Breaking History universe, except that it's REALLY out there tonally from the rest, and that gave me pause. Again, it was weird thinking of that and Mrs. Hawking existing in the same world and theoretically being able to meet. Okay, I think she's dead by the 1920s, but that's beside the point. Hell, I'm even slightly worried about how the Hawking stories are going to take a slightly darker turn with the second trilogy. I don't want to go all grimdark even so, and I don't want to alienated people who liked the tone of the first set. I have to tell the story I have to tell-- just as any writer does --but it's one more of the many things to take into consideration when you're taking on the challenge of serializing.

Posts from This Journal by “musing” Tag


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 14th, 2015 10:28 pm (UTC)
Interesting. The tonal variation in the Marvel Cinematic 'verse doesn't bother me at all, I suppose because I'm so used to the comics -- provided that a given Cinematic's tone is at least roughly in line with the corresponding comic, it feels right to me. For example, the _Alias_ comic that Jessica Jones is based on was brilliant, but absolutely pitch-black, one of the darkest stories Marvel's ever run. (Although based on your spoiler, they may have simplified the story a bit. Haven't seen the show yet.)

Indeed, IMO the way they've broken down the properties was very smart, with the Hell's Kitchen stuff largely separated from the glitzy heroes. That's true to the comics (what Netflix is calling the Defenders roughly corresponds to the old Marvel Knights line), and helps keep tonally separate "sub-worlds" that only barely interact. Hadn't thought about it that way before, but now that you point it out, it's pretty clever...
Dec. 15th, 2015 05:44 pm (UTC)
Two disjointed notes:

1. Now that I think about it, maybe this is why I couldn't connect to the Nolan Batman films? They're supposed to be grimdark, but the plot and dialog don't take themselves seriously. It's not even that they're cheesy - plenty of action movies are (for example, Shoot 'Em Up, or most Schwarzenegger flicks). It's that they're cheesy in the way of a cheerful kids' movie, which is so out of tune with the supposedly grim, superpower-less tone.

2. One of the things I've done in LARPs, and should stop doing, is play with tone in character sheets. Seek/Find is the prime example: it has an absurdist premise (super-spies have all lost items and are at the Lost and Found, and their last mission involved a plot to destroy various vegetable strains), and character sheets that are largely written in serious style. I vary tone in character sheets as a way of showing personality, and that's fine - for example, again in Seek/Find, the youngest, newest spy is the only one whose character sheet contains patriotic thoughts. But you're right that the tone should be in line with the setting.
Dec. 15th, 2015 06:49 pm (UTC)
Actually, in LARP specifically, I think it's entirely appropriate to have tonal variation. That's because a LARP typically isn't *one* story, it's a whole *bunch* of stories, each with a different protagonist and plots. It's common and reasonable for those stories to be tonally quite different, so long as each is *internally* consistent.

So for example, in Tabula Rasa II, we had both the psycho serial killer (whose character sheet was the darkest and creepiest thing I've ever written -- half of it is an argument with the voices in his head) and the gentle wacko who basically thinks he's Batman. Each story works well when viewed from its own perspective, but looking at the character sheets side-by-side would be bizarre...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

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