Describe The Tone Of The Essay

The tone in a story can be joyful, serious, humorous, sad, threatening, formal, informal, pessimistic, and optimistic. Your tone in writing will be reflective of your mood as you are writing.

Tone in Writing

Tone in writing is not really any different than the tone of your voice. You know that sometimes it is not “what” you say, but “how” you say it.

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” 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.

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 contrast, in Charlotte's Web, 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 A River Runs Through It, loss is also addressed with a kind of acceptance. The tone here is a bit 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

In the following excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, notice the 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!

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.

Finally, in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, the tone could be said to be mysterious, secretive, ominous, or evil.

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 you can think of can be the tone in a story.

Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.

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Examples of Tone in a Story

By YourDictionary

The tone in a story can be joyful, serious, humorous, sad, threatening, formal, informal, pessimistic, and optimistic. Your tone in writing will be reflective of your mood as you are writing.

The tone and mood words listed below are also available as a Word document.

Tone and mood both deal with the emotions centered around a piece of writing. Though they seem similar and can in fact be related causally, they are in fact quite different.

Tone

Tone is the author’s attitude toward a subject. While journalistic writing theoretically has a tone of distance and objectivity, all other writing can have various tones.

If we were to read a description of a first date that included words and phrases like “dreaded” and “my buddies forced me to go on the date”, we could assume that the individual didn’t really enjoy the date.

Some tone words include:

POSITIVE TONE WORDS

NEUTRAL

(+,, or neutral)

NEGATIVE TONE WORDS

admiring

adoring

affectionate

appreciative

approving

bemused

benevolent

blithe

calm

casual

celebratory

cheerful

comforting

comic

compassionate

complimentary

conciliatory

confident

contented

delightful

earnest

ebullient

ecstatic

effusive

elated

empathetic

encouraging

euphoric

excited

exhilarated

expectant

facetious

fervent

flippant

forthright

friendly

funny

gleeful

gushy

happy

hilarious

hopeful

humorous

interested

introspective

jovial

joyful

laudatory

light

lively

mirthful

modest

nostalgic

optimistic

passionate

placid

playful

poignant

proud

reassuring

reflective

relaxed

respectful

reverent

romantic

sanguine

scholarly

self-assured sentimental

serene

silly

sprightly

straightforward

sympathetic

tender

tranquil

whimsical

wistful

worshipful

zealous

commanding

direct

impartial

indirect

meditative

objective

questioning

speculative

unambiguous

unconcerned

understated

abhorring

acerbic

ambiguous

ambivalent

angry

annoyed

antagonistic

anxious

apathetic

apprehensive

belligerent

bewildered

biting

bitter

blunt

bossy

cold

conceited

condescending

confused

contemptuous

curt

cynical

demanding

depressed

derisive

derogatory

desolate

despairing

desperate

detached

diabolic

disappointed

disliking

disrespectful

doubtful

embarrassed

enraged

evasive

fatalistic

fearful

forceful

foreboding

frantic

frightened

frustrated

furious

gloomy

grave

greedy

grim

harsh

haughty

holier-than-thou

hopeless

hostile

impatient

incredulous

indifferent

indignant

inflammatory

insecure

insolent

irreverent

lethargic

melancholy

mischievous

miserable

mocking

mournful

nervous

ominous

outraged

paranoid

pathetic

patronizing

pedantic

pensive

pessimistic

pretentious

psychotic

resigned

reticent

sarcastic

sardonic

scornful

self-deprecating

selfish

serious

severe

sinister

skeptical

sly

solemn

somber

stern

stolid

stressful

strident

suspicious

tense

threatening

tragic

uncertain

uneasy

unfriendly

unsympathetic

upset

violent

wry

Mood

Mood is the atmosphere of a piece of writing; it’s the emotions a selection arouses in a reader.

Some common mood descriptors are:

POSITIVE MOOD WORDS

NEGATIVE MOOD WORDS

amused

awed

bouncy

calm

cheerful

chipper

confident

contemplative

content

determined

dignified

dreamy

ecstatic

empowered

energetic

enlightened

enthralled

excited

exhilarated

flirty

giddy

grateful

harmonious

hopeful

hyper

idyllic

joyous

jubilant

liberating

light-hearted

loving

mellow

nostalgic

optimistic

passionate

peaceful

playful

pleased

refreshed

rejuvenated

relaxed

relieved

satiated

satisfied

sentimental

silly

surprised

sympathetic

thankful

thoughtful

touched

trustful

vivacious

warm

welcoming

aggravated

annoyed

anxious

apathetic

apprehensive

barren

brooding

cold

confining

confused

cranky

crushed

cynical

depressed

desolate

disappointed

discontented

distressed

drained

dreary

embarrassed

enraged

envious

exhausted

fatalistic

foreboding

frustrated

futile

gloomy

grumpy

haunting

heartbroken

hopeless

hostile

indifferent

infuriated

insidious

intimidated

irate

irritated

jealous

lethargic

lonely

melancholic

merciless

moody

morose

nauseated

nervous

nightmarish

numb

overwhelmed

painful

pensive

pessimistic

predatory

rejected

restless

scared

serious

sick

somber

stressed

suspenseful

tense

terrifying

threatening

uncomfortable

vengeful

violent

worried

One good way to see mood (and, to a degree, tone) in action is through genre-crossing movie trailers. In film editing classes throughout the States, a common assignment is to take an existing film (say, a comedy) and create a film preview that presents the film as a different genre (for example, a horror film). This is accomplished through editing and splicing scenes, adding new, anxiety-producing music and sound effects, and adding a new voice-over introduction.

Some of the best examples of this are below.

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