Mood and Tone
First, let’s talk about tone. If you think back to your childhood, you may recall being told to “watch your tone of voice” when speaking to someone. Tone is just as important in real life as it is in writing. In writing, instead of using our literal voices, we convey tone with the words we choose. Have you ever sent a long paragraph to someone only to get “K” as a reply? You might think, “This person is upset, because they are being short with me!” This is an example of tone. Even with this one letter, their tone seems dismissive and angry because they are so terse.
Often, the tone you naturally write with is pretty neutral, which may make your writing come across as uninteresting. Here’s an example of neutral tone:
I went on a date last weekend. We went to get ice cream and we stayed out until 9 pm.
Now, there’s nothing really wrong with this, but the tone is very neutral and objective, told by someone who’s simply giving the facts. What if we used language that gave it a more positive tone?
I finally went on a date last weekend. We went to get my favorite ice cream and we stayed out all night.
With just a few word changes, the tone makes the speaker sound much more excited. They sound eager to talk about their date. It also sounds like it went well since they stayed out late.
Let’s look at another example. Listen to this excerpt from Winnie the Pooh and see what kind of tone you pick up.
“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
The person speaking here is giving advice, asking you to be patient with people. They seem to be speaking a bit formally, though they give a funny reason as to why you should be patient with people who don’t seem to listen. Obviously, this advice is from the perspective of a stuffed animal. Knowing all this, you could say the tone is understanding, kind, and perhaps even childish.
The other element we’re going to talk about here is mood, which you need tone in order to create. When we describe our mood in everyday life, we may say we are happy or sad or anything in between. When we are reading a piece of text, the words used, including the tone, can convey a mood that the reader can pick up. For example, a Dr. Seuss book will probably convey a joyful or playful mood to the reader, while a Harry Potter book might give off a mysterious or adventurous mood. Mood in writing is how the author’s words create an atmosphere or overall feeling of what is happening in the text.
Let’s look at an example from “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe.
“Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.”
From just this stanza of the poem, what do you think the mood of this piece is? Poe used the word bleak to describe the cold month of December and used ghosts to describe embers casting smoke and soot as they burn out. The author also shares that they are in “sorrow for the lost Lenore.” It’s probably safe to say the language in this poem evokes a dark and mysterious mood by describing a somber and frightening experience.
Okay, before we go, let’s go over a couple of quick review questions.
1. “The man stormed out of the restaurant, enraged that the service was taking so long.”
Which of the following best describes the tone of this sentence?
2. Which of the following sets of words would an author use to create a gloomy mood?
- bounce, run, play
- smirk, jest, grin
- dark, cold, rainy
- bold, bright, brisk
That’s all for this review! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!