I found this note on my car windscreen this morning.
Something about it made me not throw it in the bin.
(We’ll brush over the legalities of my parking technique).
From a tone of voice point of view, it’s a perfect example of how writing formally can come across as patronising.
By using words like ‘respectfully’, the writer has ended up sounding anything but respectful.
This is something English people do better than anyone: assert that being polite is the same thing as being friendly.
A friendly note would have been handwritten and might have said something like:
Hey, do you mind turning around at Coastlines up on the left? We’re worried there’s going to be another accident. Cheers, No. 39
It sounds human. So it’s more compelling.
But what if we flip this idea?
What if we want to sound like a stuffy old busybody?
(For some hypothetical brief).
A character who needs to come across as whiny and complaining.
The language in the note isn’t whiny. But it is constricted and unnatural. So it comes across as whiny.
Tautologies like ‘respectfully ask’ sound anything but respectful, and bring out the writer’s true nature. Their real tone of voice.
By trying too hard to be polite, they’ve come across as rude.
But believably rude.
Perhaps a good writing technique is to embrace the opposite tone of voice.
This reminds me of something an actor once told me:
“The best way to act drunk is to try to act sober.”
Maybe that’s the trick to an authentic tone of voice.
Don’t think about how your character should sound.
Think about how they’d try to sound.
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