This artwork is an inspiring view into IBM Watson’s ability to decode the subtle inferences that emerge from natural language, based on analysis of colloquial expression, tonality, sentiment and thematic concepts.
of wrong doing apathetic-indifferent
due to lack of energy or concern awe-solemn
strong animosity as a result of pain or grief cynical-questions
the basic sincerity and goodness of people condescension;
condescending-a feeling of superiority callous-unfeeling,
insensitive to feelings of others contemplative-studying,
thinking, reflecting on an issue critical-finding
easily angered contemptuous-showing
or feeling that something is worthless or lacks respect caustic-intense
use of sarcasm; stinging, biting conventional-lacking
spontaneity, originality, and individuality disdainful-scornful didactic-author
attempts to educate or instruct the reader derisive-ridiculing,
a sincere state of mind erudite-learned,
polished, scholarly fanciful-using
the imagination forthright
frank without hesitation gloomy-darkness,
sadness, rejection haughty-proud
and vain to the point of arrogance indignant-marked
by anger aroused by injustice intimate-very
and often having critical opinions jovial-happy lyrical-expressing
a poet’s inner feelings; emotional; full of images; song-like matter-of-fact–accepting
of conditions; not fanciful or emotional mocking-treating
with contempt or ridicule morose-gloomy,
sullen, surly, despondent malicious-purposely
unbiased view-able to leave personal judgments aside optimistic-hopeful,
and obedient in order to gain something patronizing-air
of condescension pessimistic-seeing
the worst side of things; no hope quizzical-odd,
eccentric, amusing ribald-offensive
in speech or gesture reverent-treating
a subject with honor and respect ridiculing-slightly
contemptuous banter; making fun of reflective-illustrating
innermost thoughts and emotions sarcastic-sneering,
and bitterly sarcastic satiric-ridiculing
to show weakness in order to make a point, teach sincere-without
deceit or pretense; genuine solemn-deeply
-optimistic, cheerful whimsical-odd,
strange, fantastic; fun
I’m going to be honest, tone is something I struggle with in my writing.
In some scenes, it can be a huge stumbling block for me. I get how it
works, but sometimes I just can’t find it. Those days are over
(hopefully) because now I have a post (this one) written out that
explains it to myself, which will be better and more accurate than
trying to pull it from my head when I’m already confused. So if you’ve
had trouble with tone, no worries, this article nails it all down.
I’m going to cover what tone is, how to create it, how to keep
control of it, what to do if your tone goes sour, and how to actually
change or juggle tones in a scene. I’ll also talk about how the right
tone will let you get away with just about anything.
Maybe you are like how I use to be: thinking that tone isn’t really
something you need to worry yourself over. It’ll just happen, you think.
You’ll just write your story and whatever the tone is, is whatever the
tone is. It’s what came naturally.
It’s not that this attitude is wrong–I’ve seen plenty of published
writing where the author couldn’t have paid tone any mind–it’s that you
are cutting yourself and your writing short by ignoring tone. Maybe you
already have great writing skills. Cool. But you can make them better by paying attention and mastering the element of tone.
I used to lump tone and voice together. While they overlap and play off
each other, they aren’t the same thing. To understand voice better and
how it works, go visit my article on how to create it (remember, what the character thinks/says + how she thinks/says it = voice). Tone is different.
Tone has to do with feelings. It’s the attitude the author, narrator, or
viewpoint character has in the passage. You can have a sympathetic
tone, a humorous tone, an arrogant tone, or a sarcastic tone.
There are really three components that create tone.
Creating and Controlling Tone
Consistent (Emotional) Beats
“Beat” can be a somewhat ambiguous term in the writing world–like so
many others. But here, today in this post, “beat” means a small, tiny,
little moment in a story. It can be a line of dialogue, an action your
character takes, or a description, for example. It’s that tiny, little
moment or micro-concept in a story. It can be as short as a few words. When I say “emotional
beat,” a mean a beat the evokes a specific emotion. A humor beat. A
sympathetic beat. A romance beat. Here is what a romantic beat might
As she handed him the snow globe, their fingers accidentally touched.
In order to create the right tone you want, you need the right beats. You need at least three beats of that tone to establish that tone, then you just need enough to keep it going.
So if we are going to go with creating a romantic tone, you’d want to
add a few more romantic beats, preferably each one carrying more
intensity. So somewhere in the opening of our scene, we might add these
He wanted to run his hand through her hair.
She stared deep into his eyes.
They were so close, he could count her freckles.
Three beats establish the tone. If you need to sustain that tone throughout the scene, you’ll need to continue putting beats in
that speak to that tone. If you want to keep the scene romantic, you
need to continue feeding in romantic beats. Just make sure there is some
variety or increased intensity so it doesn’t become stale. For example,
you wouldn’t want kissing to be the only beat you use for a romantic
tone. After the first three kisses, it’s going to lose its impact,
unless you can vary and twist the kisses so that each one feels fresh.
Don’t forget that the setting can add to the sense of romance too. That
could give you some variety to pull from. Other than physicality,
conversation and internal understanding can be romantic too.
An emotional beat can either be:
1. a micro-concept (meaning the beat’s content/concept) of that tone
2. some content rendered in a way that evokes those emotions
How Content Creates Tone
So the first option has to do with content. It’s easier to create
romantic micro-concepts when the content of the scene itself is set-up
for them. If I need a scene to feel romantic, it will be easier to do
that if my characters are alone at a beautiful outlook than if they are
driving a garbage truck together. Yeah, the latter can still be done,
but you are going to have to work at least twice as hard to create the
romantic beats you need in order to have a romantic tone, because not
only is a garbage truck not romantic, it actually takes away from any kind romantic moment you have, so you have to work extra hard
to compensate that. If you have a scene that you want to feel eerie,
it’ll probably be better to try to set it in a cemetery, morgue, or
abandoned house, than a grocery store, arcade, or fast food place.
(A table of contents is available. It will be kept updated throughout the series.
This series will remain open for additional posts.)
Part Four: How Pacing Impacts Tone
Tone is an essential component to the mood of the piece, and built into all of that is pacing. Pacing is how fast or slow a piece moves as influenced by syntax and sentence length, for the most part. The skill of pacing isn’t one that can be taught in a classroom. No matter how many talks are given or advice imparted, pacing is something writers must develop a feeling for on their own. It takes time and practice and patience, which is admittedly the worst kind of aspect to writing imaginable.
How you construct your sentences is the number one tool for managing pace.
Syntax: the study of the rules and patterns for the formation of grammatical sentences in a language. (x)
The rules that dictate how words are put together into sentences make up the syntax. Most English sentences are “subject+verb+object” (Jane ate an apple.), however by switching syntax from the standard to the non-standard, writers change how the sentences are read. Poetry uses different syntax in order to create more lyrical, melodic, and rhythmic lines. It emphasizes different words than plain, ol’ regular syntax does. Sentence length is a part of syntax, and the variations that come with it are crucial to understand. Length impacts all kinds of parts of story that we don’t even realize because they come naturally to us.
Story: Depending on what your character is doing, it may require a different kind of syntax, specifically sentence length. Longer sentences are useful in conveying a slowness, idleness, laziness, or general willingness to take their time. These sentences are often description that gets deep into how a character is feeling, thinking, and the sensations they feel and sights they see. The longer the sentence, the more time it takes for your reader to read, the slower the narrative becomes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are times when taking a moment to smell the roses, so to speak, is appropriate, and times when it’s not. If your characters are in the middle of a fight–verbally or physically–it’s not the time to be talking about the way the sun is refracting through the windows. Short sentences are most effective for moving story along. Whether it’s a conversation or a high-intensity scene, short sentences can pack a lot of punch. Know that your plot will require different pacing at different times. Practice switching things up and seeing what that does. If a scene feels off, try messing with the way sentences are set up, playing with their length, changing word choices. Sparks happen with the strangest of little changes.
Genre: All genres have a generally accepted way of speaking. Literary fiction deals so much with internal conflict that a more poetic style of writing is pretty typical for the genre. That means all kinds of syntax changes can be expected. With horror, comedy, and thriller, shorter sentences are more common, while things like sagas, Gothic, magical realism, and romance often see longer sentences. Fantasy, science fiction, and adventure don’t really have a stereotype for sentence length, since audience age also plays into syntax and those three genres play through all age groups, points of view, and plot ups-and-downs. Remember to give your readers a break. All narratives vary in pace throughout. Be sure to strike a balance between breakneck action sequences and slightly slower scenes of dialogue or description. Studio Ghibli has talked about their technique of imbuing breathing space into their narratives. Consider how that works within your own story.
Tone: Your diction even impacts pace. By being as precise as possible with your words–using exactly the word that describes your action and not a phrase that works it out eventually–the narrative can influence your readers. Some words have a quickness to them, or a more ponderous feel, or even a harshness that can either push your reader ahead to ratchet up speed or slow a reader down into contemplation instead. Not to mention that the more difficult the word is, the more time it will take for the reader; the easier the word, the faster the reader will speed through. Pay attention to all the little ways your words sound and interact with each other and you’ll have a better grasp of how you’re building your story’s pace.
Next up: Description, character, & a couple of thoughts.
disconnected: when South Asians accuse East Africans of cultural appropriation
On August 9th, Yasmin Yonis, a Somali-American writer, caused a Twitter storm when she started a conversation about accusations of cultural appropriation made by South Asian Twitter against Black Twitter. At the core of the debate were headpieces, henna paintings, clothing, ear chains and necklaces worn by women in East Africa and elsewhere that South Asians claimed as theirs.
Conversations about cultural appropriation have since few years been on the rise but have, for obvious reasons, mainly focused on how white cultures appropriate those of people of colour. Debates between people of colour have largely been sidelined to Twitter, Tumblr and other social media conversations. Yonis’s tweets struck a nerve and were shared by thousands, predominately Black Twitter. She argued that most accusations of cultural theft made by South Asians against Africans are expressions of widespread anti-black racism amongst South Asian communities. And she is right.
When South Asians accuse East Africans of cultural appropriation, it is less about cultural relations or power dynamics at play. It’s about brownness and blackness. It boils down to a question of race-relations and border demarcations. Such accusations stem from both widespread ignorance, but also plain old racism. A few months ago, I started my own tweet conversation on the topic, and here’s an elaboration.
The sight of a Somali woman wearing a multi-coloured dirac wrapped around her body, or that of an Ethiopian woman with henna painted on her hands irritates many South Asians because it challenges centuries-old myths about their place in this world and racial hierarchy. It’s a sharp reminder that there are understudied connections between these two parts of the world and many of its diverse communities. But, many South Asians would rather want to sweep those under the rug and pretend they didn’t exist.
Truth being told, most South Asians can’t fathom to be related or share anything in common with Africans.
If you today casually ask South Asians about historic relations and shared cultural heritages with Africans, you will most likely receive a baffled look followed by a prompt and outright negation. We’ve in fact silenced our shared histories to the extent that scholarship needs to be produced outside of South Asia to force us to look into our pasts and face the histories that were never granted its rightful places in our own history books. And when we seldolmy discover them, we treat them as if they were some anomaly, some exotic trope or even human zoo. There’s today little interest in uncovering African-South Asian relations, unless it serves neoliberal projects. This stands in stark contrast to how many South Asians remember and write about their relationships to Arabs, Persians, Turks and European colonisers, and, importantly, how many South Asians claim ancestry based on such long, complicated and often times violent histories. You’ll search in vain for any references that will connect you to the African continent. And you’ll have to search long for any South Asian to claim African heritage on their own (unless they are busy appropriating Black American culture, of course) and find some form of pride in it.
For South Asians, the Indian Ocean that connects us to East Africa is only relevant when talking about Arab traders or European Invaders. African-South Asian histories find no space within it.
Africa is of course not a country and neither is South Asia. The millions of people and communities have different relations and degrees of connections towards each other. Just as their cultures may vary, so do their histories, relationships and genetic heritages. What unites South Asia across the board however, is their embracement of whiteness. The aspiration towards fairer skin drives them towards an ‘Aryanized’ reading of their bodies and histories, which values fair skinned-bodies while equally erasing dark-skinned ones. This reflects in South Asia’s most widespread religion, Hinduism, which vilifies dark bodies by construing them as either symbols of death or demons. Fair-skinned bodies are, on the hand, seen as those of saints and saviours. Any embrace of whiteness/lightness is therefore equally also a rejection of blackness/darkness.
The community I come from, Eelam Tamils from northeastern Sri Lanka, has for centuries been construed as black within the South Asian context, including by other islanders. One of Hinduism’s holy books, the Ramayan, depicts us in its North Indian interpretation, the most dominant one, as barbaric monsters whose island is burnt to the ground by fair-skinned saviours. Diwali, the festival that follows Ram’s return from Lanka, is today still celebrated in the North as a mythical victory over darkness. Eelam Tamil (often also referenced as ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’) is today a codeword amongst South Asians for darkness/blackness, even for Indian Tamils. In light of it, calling someone a Tamil can be used as a slur by fair-skinned South Asians against dark-skinned South Asians.
Within South Asia and its diasporas, we’re next to Afro-South Asians, Andamanese and Nicobarese people one of the main recipients of anti-black racism. Being called anti-black racial epithets however, doesn’t stop us from equally producing and maintaining anti-black racism towards others. Quite the opposite: it makes us even more eager to demarcate our differences.
When I today ask my mother why our hair texture isn’t the same as to that of Indians, she provides me a dry reply that we are not Indian. When I dig a little deeper and talk to her about her hair politics and put them in juxtaposition to those of black women, she usually reacts outraged. When I say dosai tastes like injera, injera like dosai, tibs like meat curries, meat curries like tibs, my family refuses to hear it. When I tell them of the Eritrean waitress who mistook my Eelam Tamil friend and I for a compatriot and started taking orders in Tigrigna, they laughed it off. When a group of Eritrean youths at a refugee welcome party full of white Germans and other light-skinned refugees took their seat on our table to start bond with us as if we’re family, it remained an anecdote without consequences. When an Eritrean friend told me about the many times she has been mistaken for a ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’, they said that’s impossible. When my cousin was approached by four elderly Somali men playing chess in a McDonald’s in Norway in Somali, it was reduced to little more than banal entertainment. When a Somali friend wore a sari and my parents said in delight that she looked like a Tamil girl, they didn’t think about the meaning of their words twice. When white men then called us the ’n’ word, we said we’re not ‘African’. When fair-skinned South Asians addressed us as black, we called them racists. These are just few of the anecdotes we carry around but find no space to articulate or share because of how we’re positioned between fair-skinned South Asians and white people — at the expenses of possible linkages and solidarities outside of both.
When American-Indian-Tamil comedian Aziz Ansari mistook 14-year-old American-Sudanese Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested in Texas for having built a clock, for a ‘brown kid’ he could project his own bodily experiences upon, it was more than just a simple negation and/or confusion of/over Mohamed’s Black Arab heritage. It didn’t just speak to Mohamed’s type of blackness which sits at the borderlines of erasure and irritation amongst dominant Black and Arab narratives. It also spoke volumes about Ansari’s type of brownness which similarly struggles with erasure and dislocation from dominant South Asian narratives. Ansari’s misidentification shows how colour lines are not static or linear. Neither are black and brown two absolute separates that never collide, historically or in the present day. They can be ambiguous, confusing and even messy because of how racial classifications do not respond to the complexity and diversity of human bodies, experiences and self-identifications.
From attire to jewellery to food cultures to skin colour, there are many things we share. We’ve rich histories that require explorations. Anti-black racism, however, raises us to believe that we monopolise our own cultures, that they are the result of isolation or mingling with fair-skinned others — but never with our dark-skinned brethrens. It tells us that black folks do ‘brown’ things when we’re actually also doing ‘black’ things. Anti-black racism functions as a form of self-hatred amongst many of us that we’re raised with since childhood, and our communities have been instilled with for centuries, much longer than the first presence of European colonisers in the region. It remains deeply intertwined with Hinduism and South Asia’s resulting caste apartheid. Anti-black racism under white supremacy and Brahmin supremacy pushes us to position us closer to lightness than darkness in the quest of surviving racial and caste hierarchies. It makes my family think about the many intersections of our experiences as coincidences rather than results of shared histories.
When in 2004 the tsunami embarked from Ace, Indonesia, to kill tens of thousands on India’s and Sri Lanka’s coastlines, the waves didn’t cease there but continued all the way until they reached Somalia and Kenya’s coastlines. Several hundreds were subsequently killed hours after the first earthquake erupted thousands of km further east, on the Asian side of the ocean. Yet the 2004 tsunami remains to be remembered as an Asian catastrophe and not an Indian Ocean one. Most have in fact never heard about African victims of this catastrophe. It is reflective of our how mental borders, connections and knowledges are drawn, limited and reproduced by colonial mappings; how they erase connections that challenge their very raison d’être and hinder us from thinking beyond the spatialities colonialism has left us with.
But if we’d be able stop identifying by land but, say, the ocean, we’d not be people of two continents but one ocean. If we’d be able to think of the ocean as something that connects us rather than divides us, we could begin to reflect about the relationships, cultures and histories that bind us. We’d be pushed to move away from conceptions of Asia and Africa being two separate entities, but could see them as the fluid, interconnected spaces they are. It would enable us to build meaningful solidarities and embrace our darkness while remaining cognizant of how white supremacy and caste apartheid intersect and organise us to weaken us and see us as strangers, when we are in fact anything but. Our anti-black racism can erase many of our shared histories, even lead us to cry cultural appropriation when seeing Somali women wearing diracs, but it can’t erase the waters that connect us.