How to strike the right tone when writing about serious, light subjects

I found myself this week in a strange place as a reader. I read story after story about the horrible disasters in Japan, then found myself riveted to a Rolling Stone cover story about Snooki from MTV's "Jersey Shore." 

On any given day, a reporter may be asked to write about something deadly serious, like the tsunami in Japan, or something truly ridiculous, like a character on "Jersey Shore." Versatile writers will learn how to tune their voices to accomplish both tasks.

Looking at this circumstance as a writer, it confirmed for me the wisdom of Writing Tool #21: "Know when to back off and when to show off. When the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate."

The goal for the writer is always to write in an authentic voice, but to offer the tone of voice that is most appropriate for the subject matter. Call it, in upscale language, the rhetoric of decorum.

In this week's writing chat, we looked at the subtle but compelling aspect of the writing craft and offered examples to help you understand it better.

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    Roy Peter Clark

    Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty member, dean, vice-president, and senior scholar.


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