Master the Difference: Tone and Mood in Writing

by | Jun 2, 2021 | From the Editor | 0 comments

No, tone and mood in writing are not the same things. Yes, I’m going to tell you the difference and why you need to know it.

            Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by a story that was so emotional you cried your eyes out onto those last few cream-colored pages and couldn’t stop thinking about it long after you closed the book. Solid character development, vivid setting, captivating plot- it had all the things. As a writer, reading books that leave an impact in this way motivates us to emulate the same conventions in our writing. But there are powers at bay to execute this effect that you may miss.

            Two words: tone and mood. While they go hand-in-hand, they’re not synonymous. So, here’s the best way to break it down for you:

Understand Tone in Writing.

            Tone is a literary device used by writers to incite deeper meaning and portray the story’s underlying themes. It focuses on the writer’s attitude while writing the story and the diction choices made to display a narrator or character’s mindset toward the story’s topics. Tone is about the overall attitude/feeling that the author conveys for the narrator and the characters. ⁠

            Examples of tone in writing:

            Toni Morrison’s Beloved has an ominous, menacing tone.

            Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart has a manic, agitating tone.

            Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games has a suspenseful and gloomy tone.

Understand Mood in Writing.

            Think of mood as the literary element that focuses on the feelings that the story arouses in its readers. With a focus on language and imagery, mood creates the emotional complexities that connect the reader to the story at the heart of it. Mood is about the overall attitude/feeling that the reader experiences based on the tone put forth for them. ⁠

            Examples of mood in writing:

            Toni Morrison’s Beloved leaves readers feeling sad and mournful.

            Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart creates a scary, creepy mood.

            Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games makes readers feel mad and frustrated.

Now, let’s sum up how you can incorporating tone and mood into your writing to enhance “the vibe.”

Writing Tone.

            Tone is best translated through detailed description and sentence structure. How are you expressing underlying meanings through your word choices and stylistic articulations? Here is where you’d focus on how you say something, not necessarily why you’re saying it.

Writing Mood.

            Convey the mood you want your readers to embody through proper setting, pacing, and dialogue. What are you saying to your audience through your narration or characters that will spark an emotional journey for them? Here I where you’d focus on what you’re saying to express a deeper why.

3 Quick Tips to Keep in Mind about Tone and Mood:

  1. The tone of the story enhances the mood for the reader.
  2. The reader’s mood while reading does not have to match the tone of the story.
  3. Understand tone through the words of the author. Understand mood through the emotions of the reader.

            And remember, if you want to crush that story outline, spend some time nurturing what you desire tone and mood to look like for your novel structure. How do you want readers to feel? What can you say to incite those feelings? But most importantly, focus on the question: Who am I in this story? When you assess your emotions toward the story you’re writing first, the path to portraying that to your reader will become more clear.

Christine Weimer

Learn more about the author’s books, Tainted Lionheart and I Got to Know Nature, here.

            Are you seeking to hone your craft and expand your understanding of story elements and literary devices like a pro? Join our A Writer’s Craft Mentorship Program. Spend the next eight weeks intensifying your knowledge to gain the confidence you desire to keep writing long-term.


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