Tone is not mood, writer’s voice or style, although the novel’s tone influences those elements in fiction. Tone is the author’s attitude toward the story and the reader. It conveys emotion and temperament through word choice as it brings the story to life.
Tone is not exclusive to fiction. Non-fiction and journalistic writing is also influenced by the language of the story. Notice when you read magazine articles how the atmosphere and mood is reflected in the author’s language and the way he lays it on the paper.
Words carry connotative meaning. These meanings and the novel’s word pictures provide tone to a story. For example, think of the word child. The reader’s vision of a child in a book is influenced by the author’s (or character’s) word choice. You will note this in these synonyms for child: kid, kiddo, peanut, brat, rug-rat, tot, youngster, devil, munchkin, whippersnapper, tyke, small-fry, nipper, punk, bastard, sweetie, rascal, lad, lass, or half-pint. Note that each of these word choices convey a different word picture or connotative meaning toward a child and reflects an attitude the POV character attributes to children. The tone brings with it an emotion or feeling to the reader.
Within a specific tone, the author can use a variety of methods to bring out the desired tone. For example in a comedy, the humor may be created through methods such as using absurdity, parody, exaggeration, incongruity, suspense or a blend of these elements. This means one tone can be expressed in a variety of ways by using multiple types of techniques.
Tones are not limited. An author looks for the perfect attitude to enhance his story by using the specific tone throughout the book. Here’s a list of literary tones, you may want to keep in mind as you develop a story idea and decide the message or theme you want to use. Tone is often connected to sub-genre as well. A suspense or thrill is not often comedic although a few authors have the knack to blend the two. So keep in mind that this list may include basic tones as well as sub-genre tones. Here are some possibilities.
These examples give you an idea of tone. Look at your work in progress and ask yourself what is the tone of your book. Does it fall into one of the tones listed above or have you focused on another attitude not mentioned in the list? If you’d like to share any ideas here, please leave them in the comments so others can read them as well.
Next post, I will cover two other topics relating to tone. First dissecting tone step by step, and finally examining problematic areas in tone.