I'm feeling more and more that the single most important element of any novel is tone. This is also called voice, and is the feeling behind a story. It's not the story, or the characters, or the plot, or even the world. The tone is the flavor of the book, in a way. It's how words are strung together, how images are used, and more. And it's simply impossible to teach. You either use a tone that resonates with your readers, or you don't.
The last three books I've read all had magnificent tones. I read the two books of Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle, followed by Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. The latter made me especially aware of the power of tone, and it's what I'd like to talk about.
I've been a fan of the film version (shown above and below) of Howl's Moving Castle, as directed by Hayao Miyazaki, for well over a decade. In fact, since seeing it, I'd describe it as one of my all time favorite movies. It took me too long to get to the book, but I dove into the novel with a lot of preconceptions. The book came first, of course. I usually try to read books before I see the movies, but in this case that didn't happen. Most book to movie adaptations involve cutting. The movie's removed certain elements, simplified things, and sometimes made small changes. They're the same story though.
I began reading Jones' novel thinking that would be the case, but it wasn't at all. The movie and the novel are like sisters. They're related, and have many overlapping elements both character and story-wise. However, the differences go far beyond some simple cuts. There are drastic character differences (including in the main character- in the book, Sophie has magic which is essential to the climax, where she has none in the movie). And even the genres of the two are different. The movie is high fantasy (an invented world), but the book is low fantasy (elements of our world, including the fact that Howl was born in and visits Wales). I'm not complaining. I didn't like the book more than the movie, or less. It was essentially a different work, and I enjoy both immensely.
Yet, that brought me back to tone. The movie changed so much that it was practically a different story completely. Nearly every major detail was altered in some key way, and the conflicts and resolutions were similar but not the same. Yet, the movie captured the tone of the book perfectly. The book has a voice, a feeling of happiness and wonder and bemusement. Sophie is cranky but lovable, and the movie captured both of dynamics like a mirror. If you enjoyed the movie you should absolutely read the book, and vice versa, because the tone is the same.
Which brings me back to tone. It's something I'm paying more and more attention to as an author, and something I'm striving to improve with. What are some of your favorite books because of tone?