'While I love the combination of spooky and funny and there’s absolutely no reason they can’t be combined (and have been successfully before) I feel that the tones are just too conflicting.'
Which is a note I get wayyyy too often. Tones are either 'conflicting' or (worse, I think), 'confusing'. Often I'll meet a producer, having worked on an outline that defines a series' format, genre, central characters, future episodes and so on, and be met with the question 'yes, but what's the show's tone?'. And sadly, the response 'I don't know, I haven't written it yet' doesn't seem to be acceptable, which is a shame, because I like to write the way I cook: have a rough idea of what you want to make, find an appropriate playlist to bliss out to while you get on with, chuck in soya sauce/coriander/jokes about eighteenth century words for 'prostitute' and see what you end up with. So I tend to avoid describing a prospective show's tone altogether - which doesn't really work; in this case, the producer had just picked it up from my brief descriptions of how I saw the main character, the sort of stories I wanted to tell and so on. So not directly mentioning tone isn't going to get you out of it - you're still going to be asked. And in fact, whilst I was writing THIS VERY POST, I had another email on the same subject about a different outline. WELCOME TO MY WONDERFUL WORLD OF REJECTION:
Thanks so much for this. I've had a good think about it and after lots of head scratching I've decided I don't think it's a goer. So sorry to do this to you again. It's partly because I know there are at least two other (REDACTED) ideas going about - including one by (MORE FAMOUS WRITER THAN ME). So it's a competitive area but I also can't quite see the tone.
One problem is, I'm not entirely sure what they mean by 'tone' in the first place. Part of the problem is that 'tone' seems such a nebulous term; is a genre, or style? So I asked various telly people on
@rosyposymagosy Interesting topic b/c I like(want) to write things where the subject and the tone clash (sad comedy) so wording becomes key. Exp: Meandering sentences, words out of Jane Austen era = more serious. Jaunty exclamations and obscene adj.'s =comedy.
@EddieRobson I think "tone" is a consistency thing. Is it all going to feel of one piece? I do think it's an issue with comedy-drama, where some scenes may be light, others heavy.
@EllardEnt (Andrew Ellard, Red Dward associate producer, IT Crowd script editor) Tempted to say "Whatever suits them at the time"! Depends on context but mostly the same as the rest of us, I guess.
@msmaddiep I suspect it's not dissimilar to when tone is used for voice. Is it bitchy? Snarky? Optimistic? Naive? Although that gets into another question of how you convey the voice of a whole show. Think it's often the cumulative voices of the lead characters, particularly the protagonist.
@ScriptwritingUK (Danny Stack) re: tone. I'd say they're talking about genre: "what is this thing? a crime drama? It reads like a Cornish dramedy!"
@kmpharwood (Kate Harwood, BBC, Controller, Series & Serials) Is it how you want it received? Luther is a crime show with a operatic tone; Silent Witness is a crime show with a gritty tone.
... all of which narrows it down a bit, suggesting that 'tone' in this context is really a further definition of something that's already been placed in genre, that helps the people commissioning it work out where and when the final result can be broadcast. So it's the partly style, partly sub-genre. Fine, you've outlined an idea for a spy thriller, but is it glossy, glamorous, fast-paced (Spooks), or subdued and downbeat (Smiley's People)?
I've always thought it was a bit presumptuous to describe a script's tone before it's completed - to continue the cooking analogy, you wouldn't tell people you're making something 'delicious' and 'exciting', because, well, it might not end up that way. But you should probably have some idea where your meal is going to be on the scale between, say, 'comfortingly bland' and 'spicy', and your description of tone should probably encompass this. So it's a question of refining exactly what I mean by tone, which I can do.
Or I could just stop doing outlines altogether and write everything on spec.
ADVANTAGES: the tone is right there on the page, and everyone knows where they stand. Also, writing is, kind of, you know, what you're supposed to be doing.
DISADVANTAGES: writing for no money is almost exactly the opposite of my business plan. Also, you can spend a month writing a spec pilot for a series about, say, modern-day witches, only to find every bugger and their cat is doing the same.
SO IN CONCLUSION: I was financially and emotionally better off when I worked in a bookshop. And there was free coffee.