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Different tones in writing list
September 25, 2018 1st Anniversary Wishes 2 comments

Definition and a list of examples of tone. Works of literature can have many different types of tone, such as humorous, solemn, distant, intimate, ironic, arrogant.

Etymology:From the Latin, "string, a stretching"

"In Writing: A Manual for the Digital Age," David Blakesley and Jeffrey L. Hoogeveen make a simple distinction between style and tone: "Style refers to the overall flavor and texture created by the writer's word choices and sentence structures. Tone is an attitude toward the events of the story—humorous, ironic, cynical, and so on." In practice, there's a close connection between style and tone.

Tone and Persona

In Thomas S. Kane's "The New Oxford Guide to Writing," "If persona is the complex personality implicit in the writing, tone is a web of feelings stretched throughout an essay, feelings from which our sense of the persona emerges. Tone has three main strands: the writer's attitude toward subject, reader, and self.

"Each of these determinants of tone is important, and each has many variations. Writers may be angry about a subject or amused by it or discuss it dispassionately. They may treat readers as intellectual inferiors to be lectured (usually a poor tactic) or as friends with whom they are talking. Themselves they may regard very seriously or with an ironic or an amused detachment (to suggest only three of numerous possibilities). Given all these variables, the possibilities of tone are almost endless.

"Tone, like persona, is unavoidable. You imply it in the words you select and in how you arrange them."

Tone and Diction

According to W. Ross Winterowd In his book, "The Contemporary Writer," "The main factor in tone is diction, the words that the writer chooses. For one kind of writing, an author may choose one type of vocabulary, perhaps slang, and for another, the same writer may choose an entirely different set of words....
"Even such small matters as contractions make a difference in tone, the contracted verbs being less formal:

It is strange that the professor had not assigned any papers for three weeks.
It's strange that the professor hadn't assigned any papers for three weeks."

Tone in Business Writing

Philip C. Kolin reminds us of how important it is to get the tone just right in business correspondence in "Successful Writing at Work." He says, "Tone in writing...can range from formal and impersonal (a scientific report) to informal and personal (an email to a friend or a how-to article for consumers). Your tone can be unprofessionally sarcastic or diplomatically agreeable.

"Tone, like style, is indicated in part by the words you choose....

"The tone of your writing is especially important in occupational writing because it reflects the image you project to your readers and thus determines how they will respond to you, your work, and your company. Depending on your tone, you can appear sincere and intelligent or angry and uninformed.... The wrong tone in a letter or a proposal might cost you a customer."

Sentence Sounds

The following examples are from Dona Hickey's book, "Developing a Written Voice" where she quotes Lawrence Roger Thompson who was quoting Robert Frost. "Robert Frost believed sentence tones (which he called 'sound of sense') are 'already there—living in the cave of the mouth.' He considered them 'real cave things: they were before words were' (Thompson 191). To write a 'vital sentence,' he believed, 'we must write with the ear on the speaking voice' (Thompson 159). 'The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader. Eye readers miss the best part. The sentence sound often says more than the words' (Thompson 113). According to Frost:

Only when we are making sentences so shaped [by spoken sentence tones] are we truly writing. A sentence must convey a meaning by tone of voice and it must be the particular meaning the writer intended. The reader must have no choice in the matter. The tone of voice, and its meaning must be in black and white on the page (Thompson 204).

"In writing, we can't indicate body language, but we can control how sentences are heard. And it is through our arrangement of words into sentences, one after another, that we can approximate some of the intonation in speech that tells our readers not only information about the world but also how we feel about it, who we are in relationship to it, and who we think our readers are in relationship to us and the message we want to deliver."

Novelist Samuel Butler once said, "We are not won by arguments that we can analyze but by the tone and temper, by the manner which is the man himself."


Blakesley, David and Jeffrey L. Hoogeveen. Writing: A Manual for the Digital Age. Cengage, 2011.

Hickey, Dona. Developing a Written Voice. Mayfield, 1992.

Kane, Thomas S. The New Oxford Guide to Writing. Oxford University Press, 1988.

Kolin, Philip C. Successful Writing at Work, Concise Edition. 4th ed., Cengage, 2015.

Winterowd, W. Ross. The Contemporary Writer: A Practical Rhetoric. 2nd ed., Harcourt, 1981.

For one kind of writing, an author may choose one type of vocabulary, perhaps slang, and for another, the same writer may choose an entirely different set of.

3 Tricks to Figure out the Author's Tone

different tones in writing list

Tone, Mood, & Style—The Feel of Fiction

April 19, 2013 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified April 20, 2013

Each piece of fiction, each section of text, has a particular feel. The feel of a story or scene is primarily achieved through three elements—tone, mood, and style. And while you may hear the words used almost interchangeably, they are different. They are achieved differently and they create different effects.

We’ll take a look at all three.

Tone in fiction is the attitude of the narrator or viewpoint character toward story events and other characters
. In a story with first-person POV, tone can also be the narrator’s attitude toward the reader.

In non-fiction, tone is the writer’s attitude toward subject matter and reader. So the writer might come across as a know-it-all or a blowhard or as humble or solicitous.

We’re all familiar with a mother’s words to her mouthy son—Don’t you take that tone with me, young man.

What does the mother mean by tone here? She’s talking about his sassy or smart-alecky attitude. The child’s words and actions and facial expressions convey an attitude his mother doesn’t approve of.

Examples of tone you might find in fiction are strident, uncaring, sassy, bossy, unconcerned, or flip. Remember that these refer to the narrator’s (viewpoint character’s) attitude.

A scene’s or story’s tone, expressed through the narrator’s attitude, could as easily be one of fearlessness or fearfulness, disbelief or detachment, or maybe unconcern or snarkiness or arrogance. Whatever attitude the narrator can take on, the scene or story can take on.

Tone is achieved through word choice (diction), sentence construction and word order (syntax), and by what the viewpoint character focuses on. Tone is created or altered by the way the viewpoint character/narrator treats the story problem and other characters, and by the way he responds to the events surrounding him. Tone can be manipulated by changing what the narrator focuses on and through his changing reactions to what is going on in the story as well as by changing the words used for his thoughts, action, and dialogue.

The tone of a scene can also be affected by manipulation of the sense elements. So what the viewpoint character smells and how those odors affect him influence tone. The menace of unrelenting footsteps on wooden stairs in the middle of the night or the hurried thud of footsteps down a dark alley would contribute to a tone different from the one created by the sounds of a toddler running down the hall to meet his daddy at the door. The viewpoint character’s perception of and reaction to sights, sounds, odors, touch, and taste add to tone.

What’s absent from a story can affect tone almost as strongly as what is present. Exclude the narrator’s attitude toward someone he loves if you want to portray him as distant and unfeeling; add in this attitude when it’s time to reveal this facet of his personality. When you give him a scene with his love interest, it can have a tone far different from those in other scenes featuring the same character.

He might notice his lover’s soft skin or the colors she uses or her smile, things he doesn’t notice or comment on in other scenes. Keeping a tender attitude far from him in scenes when he’s away from his lover will reveal much of who he is and perhaps how much he relies on her to humanize him.

Reactions and Demeanor
How does the narrator or viewpoint character come across? How does he respond to story events and revelations?

Is he desperate, upbeat, dismissive? Is he clueless or callous or indifferent?

To create a tone that works, word choices have to match the character and the moment. So if a character is desperate, his actions, thoughts, and words should reflect that desperation. What he thinks about should reveal his desperation. Tone should be consistent until something happens to change the narrator’s perceptions and responses.

If a scene seems off in a way that you can’t pinpoint or fix through changes in plot or character or dialogue, if it simply feels wrong or off, check to see if you’ve been consistent with tone (with mood as well). If you’ve inadvertently set up opposing tones within a scene, it will feel not quite right, maybe as if it’s out of focus or, more likely, as if a sheet of glass had shattered and the pieces were off kilter just a hair.

Note: If an event occurs that affects the viewpoint character, he should have a response and respond according to his character. When a viewpoint character doesn’t respond, it’s as if the event did not take place. But when the character reacts, his response and his attitude not only show what he’s feeling and identify what’s important to him, but also affect the reader’s response and feelings.

Purposes of Tone
Use tone, the viewpoint character’s attitude, in every scene to deepen the reader’s connections to the events of that scene and to the character.

Reveal character personality and motivation through tone; a person’s response, including the level and duration of the response, tells a lot about that person. The attitude a person takes on is one of his major responses to events and stimuli. Use it to reveal your characters.

A scene that’s light on tone markers or that has a mixed tone will either hold readers at a distance or have them confused, neither of which is ideal when you want to draw a reader deep into story.

Tone can change over the course of a story, as the viewpoint character grows or changes, but every scene should have a tone, a feel, that’s generated by the attitude of the viewpoint character, and that could hold fairly steady for much of the story. That is, until events start shaking up the character.

A story as a whole will also have a tone, a particular feel.

Use tone to differentiate scenes between viewpoint characters. So while Irving’s attitude is whiney, Pete’s can be overbearing. Use word choices and the unique events and story elements that each character focuses on to play up the different tones.

A long list of tones (attitude), but by no means an exhaustive one—































































Mood is what the reader feels while reading a scene or story. It’s not the reader’s emotions, but the atmosphere (the vibe) of a scene or story. It’s what the reader reads or feels or notices. Not all readers would necessarily report the same mood from a scene, although the writer does hope to achieve a particular feel common to every reader.

Mood can be expressed in terms such as dark, light, rushed, suspenseful, heavy, lighthearted, chaotic, and laid-back.

The mood of each scene can differ from that of the scene before, but you will want some consistency. Yet, as the story approaches the climax, the intensity levels should change. Readers should feel that story events are coming to a head. While there should be several points in your story at which the mood darkens or grows more menacing or more comical, readers should feel a bigger change as the story heads to its conclusion. (This feel of events rushing toward a conclusion can also be directed by pace, by a reduced emphasis on general setting details, by to-the-point dialogue, and several other factors. Mood is just one element that pulls the reader toward the story’s end.)

I typically suggest that writers examine their manuscripts around the two-thirds mark. If the feel of the story doesn’t change somewhere near this point, do some rewriting. You can make gradual changes to mood or you could change the level in large steps, but do make changes, both to indicate that the high point is indeed approaching and so readers can feel the shift.

Keep in mind that mood has to change for a reason and that something must happen even to provoke an intensity change. Something must be different to make sense of any mood change, whether the change is from mood to mood or level to level.

This change can be a physical event or a character’s sudden recognition of the meaning of an earlier event or another character’s remark.

If you’ve got several story threads or subplots featuring different viewpoint characters, the mood could switch each time you move from one subplot to the other.

While using strongly different moods is a marvelous way to differentiate story threads and the scenes of different viewpoint characters, do be aware that readers have to adjust each time you change. The adjustment might be smooth or jarring, and either kind of change could work for the story, but don’t forget that it may be difficult for readers to adapt to a new mood at the turn of a page. If they’re caught up in your fiction (and manipulating mood is a great way to keep them involved), they may not want to leave the dark scenes featuring your antagonist for a relatively lighter scene featuring the main character’s sidekick. Use what you know of human nature and your own feelings toward such changes to decide how and when to introduce scenes of different moods.

While both mood and tone can change over the course of story, tone is the more consistent element. Since it’s the attitude of the narrator, tone won’t change as often as mood can.

A list of moods (atmosphere)




















Style is the third element used for creating or changing the feel of a story or scene, though it’s a bit different from tone and mood because it’s used to affect and create the other two elements.

Style as we’re defining it here is the way the writer uses words to create not only the events of story, but their feel as well. A writer’s style is evident in his use of diction—word choices—and syntax—word order and sentence construction. A style is the writer’s method to create mood and tone, the feel of fiction. Style is also dependent on subject matter, what a write might explore and what he’d never write about. For example, one writer might never feature a pedophile in a story, another might write one as a heinous monster, and yet another might write one as a tortured soul.

One writer might feature children in his works, another cowboys, and another serial killers or detectives or archaeologists. Some writers write only about paranormal beings while others write only of humans.

One writer might focus on contemporary events while others might think only of imagined scenarios. Some writers might look to the past and others to the future.

Genre too can play a part in style. Genre can affect word choice, subject matter, setting requirements and taboos, and the style of a story’s ending (happily ever after or tear-fest or death of a major character).

Note: Non-fiction writers have their own styles as well. And it may be easier to identify a writer’s style in a magazine article or other piece of writing than it is in fiction. For example, if the writer of a magazine or blog article is patronizing, readers notice right away.

Every writer’s style is peculiar to him, yet he can alter that style to create the effects needed for a scene or any other piece of writing.

If he needs a scholarly style, he’ll choose words and sentence rhythms to create such a style. If he wants to sound like an aw-shucks country boy, he’ll choose words to convey that feel.

The writer can use jargon, words readers are comfortable with, to help those readers feel at home with his approach or conclusions, even if he writes about a topic the readers disagree with. Or the writer might use uncommon words to make readers feel ignorant or out of place or to make himself (and what he writes) seem more valuable.

A writer might adopt a formal style, with few contractions, though I don’t recommend this for fiction. People of all eras and ages have used contractions, so it wouldn’t be unusual for almost any character to use them. And their use is simply easier on the reader, allowing him to move through the text without unnecessary pauses. (There are exceptions, of course.)

In one story, a writer might use a lot of verbals (verbs used as something other than a verb), including gerunds, participles, and infinitives. She might use a lot of absolute phrases or use none. She might use short sentences, long sentences, one-word paragraphs or five-page paragraphs. Whatever choices she makes that deal with word choice and how words are arranged in phrases, sentences, and paragraphs is the writer’s style.

If she never uses adverbs or adjectives, that’s a style choice. If she uses three or four every sentence, that’s also a style choice. (One I try to discourage in every situation unless a character would use them to excess or as a way to create a deliberately bad sentence.)

Other style choices—

Using the definite article the for every noun or never using it

Writing long, involved complex sentences (or not)

Including euphemisms in place of bold cuss words

Having a character cussing every other line or word

Using irony or sarcasm or a question and answer format

Using common workhorse words in place of elegant words, or doing the opposite

Accenting repetition in words or phrases or patterns

Favoring simile or metaphor

Using alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme, assonance and other typically poetic techniques

Choosing lush descriptions over sparse ones or vice versa

Accenting or highlighting one fiction element (dialogue, action, description, and so forth) over another

Going heavy (or light) on foreshadowing or flashbacks or back story

Each of these style decisions has an impact on both tone and mood, and using different combinations of them can create stories that feel wildly different from one another.

This is why a dozen writers could begin with the same premise and write unique stories that sound nothing alike—that feel nothing alike.

Style, tone, and mood combine to make your stories your own, something no one else could create. And if you changed the tone or mood of multiple scenes or of a story as a whole, you’d create a new story quite unlike the original.

This is one reason paying attention to mood and tone are important—including the wrong elements, wrong in terms of what you’re trying to achieve, means the story won’t turn out the way you intend it to. Yes, you can make changes (or you might like what you ended up with better than what you’d wanted in the first place and decide to keep it), but if you plan ahead, learn a bit about how to establish and manipulate tone and mood, you wouldn’t have to try to figure out where the story went off-track after the fact.

A list of styles



















Overly familiar











Note: Some of the words that reflect style could also reflect tone; some mood words could describe a writer’s style. Whatever tone, mood, and style you decide on for your stories, realize that those elements contribute to the story’s feel.


Recognize that even if you don’t purposely create tone and mood, they are still created for your stories and scenes. They may be muddled and the cause of weak responses to your fiction, but they’re there, in the story. Make a point to purposely work tone and mood to the story’s advantage by your style choices. And once you’re ready to rewrite and edit, check each scene for mood and tone. Make sure you’re not sending mixed signals about either.

Bring all the elements together to work for your stories.

Write captivating, cohesive fiction.


The very quick list—

Tone—viewpoint character’s attitude

Mood—atmosphere felt by the reader

Style—word choices and word arrangements made by the writer


Tags: grammar, word choice, writing styles     Posted in: Craft & Style, Definitions

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7 Ways to Perfect Your Writing “Tone”

different tones in writing list

It is the same with writing. Every adjective and adverb you use, your sentence structure, and the imagery you use will show your tone. The definition of "tone" in literature is the way the author expresses his attitude through his writing.

The tone can change very quickly or may remain the same throughout the story. Tone is expressed by your use of syntax, your point of view, your diction, and the level of formality in your writing.

Examples of tone in a story include just about any adjective you can imagine:

  • Scared
  • Anxious
  • Excited
  • Worried
  • Foolish
  • Smart
  • Depressing

Conveying Tone in a Story

Tone in writing is conveyed by both the choices of words and the narrator of the story.

In Charlotte's Web by E. B. White, although the book is sad, the tone is one of peace and acceptance:

But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur-this lovely world, these precious days…"

In Hemingway's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place the tone is calm and peaceful.

It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference.

In A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean loss is also addressed with a kind of acceptance. The tone here is wistful, yet peaceful and moving towards acceptance nonetheless.

This was the last fish we were ever to see Paul catch. My father and I talked about this moment several times later, and whatever our other feelings, we always felt it fitting that, when we saw him catch his last fish, we never saw the fish but only the artistry of the fisherman.

Choosing Words for Tone

Consider the tone of The School by Donald Barthelme. Here, words like "death" and "depressing" set a negative or unhappy tone:

And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don't know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn't the best. We complained about it. So we've got thirty kids there, each kid had his or her own little tree to plant and we've got these thirty dead trees. All these kids looking at these little brown sticks, it was depressing.

In the following excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," notice the many adjectives and verbs that imply insane, nervous, and guilty tones.

It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND -- MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly, more vehemently but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why WOULD they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men, but the noise steadily increased. O God! What COULD I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder!

InA Tale of Two Citiesby Charles Dickens, the tone could be said to be mysterious, secretive, ominous, or evil through the use of words like "clammy," "followed," and "unwholesome."

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

Formal and Casual Tones

An example of a casual tone is:

The way I look at it, someone needs to start doing something about disease. What's the big deal? People are dying. But the average person doesn't think twice about it until it affects them. Or someone they know.

A formal tone is shown in this example:

There was a delay in the start of the project, attributable to circumstances beyond the control of all relevant parties. Progress came to a standstill, and no one was prepared to undertake the assessment of the problem and determination of the solution.

There are as many examples of tone in a story as there are stars in the sky. Any adjective, adverb, or even verb you can think of can help convey the tone in a story.

YourDictionary definition and usage example. Copyright © 2018 by LoveToKnow Corp

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Tone refers to an author's use of words and writing style to convey his or her attitude towards a topic. Tone is often Tone (attitude) and voice (personality) create a writing style. You may not be . Try and write for different audiences. Even if.

Examples of Tone in a Story

different tones in writing list

Definition of Tone

In literature, tone is the attitude or approach that the author takes toward the work’s central theme or subject. Works of literature can have many different types of tone, such as humorous, solemn, distant, intimate, ironic, arrogant, condescending, sentimental, and so on. Any emotion that humans can feel can be an example of tone in literature.

All works of literature have a tone. Authors use elements such as syntax, diction, imagery, details, and figurative language to create tone. Authors must use words to convey emotions and feelings, and the choice of these words constitutes the tone the author has toward the work’s main subject.

Works of literature are not limited to having only one tone. Tone may shift throughout a work as the narrator’s perspective changes, or as the plot becomes more complex, dramatic, bizarre, etc. There also may be more than one tone that an author takes toward a work at the same time. For example, a novel can be both humorous and dark, or both sentimental and formal.

Difference Between Tone and Mood

Tone and mood are very often confused. While definition of tone is the attitude the author has toward the work, the mood consists of the feelings the work produces in an audience or reader. Authors use tone as well as setting, theme, and voice to produce a certain mood. In cinema directors can add the use of music, editing, and images to help create mood. For example, horror movies almost always include suspenseful and anxiety-producing music. If, instead, bright jazz music were playing while a character is in danger, the audience would not feel the mood of suspense.

Common Examples of Tone

When we tell stories from everyday life to others, we always do so with some sort of attitude toward the story. For example, if someone had gotten flowers from a potential suitor and was retelling this to a friend, that person would tell very different stories depending on his or her feelings toward the suitor. If he/she were interested in the suitor, the story would be told with excitement and optimism. If he/she were not interested, the story would be told with eye rolls and perhaps irritation or embarrassment. Consider these opposite tones when dealing with the same type of situation:

  • “I’m so glad that jerk was fired; now I won’t have to deal with him anymore.” Vs. “It’s terrible that Tony was let go; he was such a great colleague!”
  • “The movie was amazing! I was laughing so hard I cried!” Vs. “You can only watch infantile humor for so long before you want to punch yourself in the face.”
  • “The principal just called to say that our son was in a fight. I can’t believe he would do that.” Vs. “I’m proud of Billy for sticking up for himself. That bully had it coming.”
  • “I’m so excited that he called! I’ve been hoping to hear from him.” Vs. “Why is that weirdo calling me again after all this time?”

Significance of Tone in Literature

The tone that an author uses greatly influences what kind of story he or she tells and how the audience perceives it. For example, there have been multitudes of books and movies produced about World War II. The tones used in the different pieces range quite a bit, however. Here are four works of literature set during WWII, and how their differing examples of tone lead to vastly different works:

  • Maus by Art Spiegelman: Melancholy, Anguished—Maus is a son’s story as he reflects on the horrors that his father lived through. The son struggles with the knowledge of these horrors, and thus the work is quite somber.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank: Youthful, Optimistic—In retrospect, the reader knows that things ended tragically for Anne Frank. Her diary, however, is full of hope, even as she deals with an incredibly difficult situation.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Deadpan, Spare—Kurt Vonnegut was present for the firebombing of Dresden, and relates the events of that night, as well as the rest of the book, in extremely unemotional terms. He is very matter-of-fact about the horrors of war, which allows the reader to inhabit the anger and sorrow of the destruction.
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: Satirical—Similar to Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22 lays bare the absurdities of war. Though the tone can be humorous at times, the subject matter is very serious and this contrast creates the effect of parody.

Examples of Tone in Literature

Example #1

Having thus lost his understanding, he unluckily stumbled upon the oddest fancy that ever entered into a madman’s brain; for now he thought it convenient and necessary, as well for the increase of his own honor, as the service of the public, to turn knight-errant.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: Ironic

In this example of tone, Cervantes calls Don Quixote “a madman” and says he has “lost his understanding.” The narrative voice clearly thinks that Don Quixote’s decision to become a knight-errant is foolish, and much of the novel pokes fun at Don Quixote’s attempts to prove his valiance. Cervantes creates an ironic distance between himself as the author and Don Quixote’s heroic quest.

Example #2

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Skeptical

In this early excerpt from The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne describes a new colony that hopes to be a Utopia, yet first constructs a cemetery and a prison. These are two things that one might assume a Utopia would not need, and thus the author sets up expectations that things will not go as the citizens of the town hope.

Example #3

I couldn’t forgive [Tom] or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Disillusioned

The narrator of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, changes tone throughout the novel. At times he is in great admiration of Jay Gatsby, while at others times he scorns the wastefulness and foolishness of the upper class. Here he calls Tom and Daisy “careless people” and clearly feels no love lost for either of them. After he passes the summer in their company his tone has changed so that he is not in admiration of their lifestyle at all anymore.

Example #4

Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Nostalgic

The narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird is a young girl, Scout, though the story is told in retrospect. The novel is a coming-of-age story where Scout begins to understand the injustices in the world. In this tone example, Scout acknowledges the things that she took from neighbor Boo Radley without having given anything back. Though she is talking about literal things here, her nostalgia about not having done enough for Boo extends to intangible things as well.

Test Your Knowledge of Tone

1. What is the difference between the tone definition and the definition of mood?

A. They are identical concepts.
B. Tone is the attitude that an author takes toward a work and mood is effects produced in the reader.
C. Tone is the way characters say things and mood is how they feel.

Answer to Question #1Show

Answer: B is the correct answer.

2. What is the best word for the tone in this excerpt from The Great Gatsby?

He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.

A. Ironic
B. Disillusioned
C. Appreciative

Answer to Question #2Show

Answer: C is the best answer.

3. Which one of these lines is the best example of a nostalgic tone?

A. I didn’t go to the moon, I went much further—for time is the longest distance between two places. (The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams)
B. He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
(1984 by George Orwell)
C. Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real. (All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy)

Answer to Question #3Show

Answer: Though all three quotes deal with the past and the passage of time, A is the correct answer. There is no nostalgia associated with Orwell’s or McCarthy’s quotes.

WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: What Is Tone In Writing?

Types of Tone in Writing. The list is nearly endless—show me a human emotion, I 'll show you a tone—. but here are the basic ones: Formal; Informal; Optimistic.

different tones in writing list
Written by Tautaur
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