Every piece of writing has a tone. Sometimes it is deliberate and obvious. Sometimes it is unintentional and understated. But, it is always there.
“Tone is a particular way of expressing feelings or attitudes that will influence how the reader feels about the characters, events, and outcomes. Speakers show tone more easily than writers because they can use voice tone, gesture, and facial expressions. A writer must use words alone” (courtesy of Susan Geye in Mini Lessons for Revision and found here).
Only having words to set the tone of a piece makes each word choice vital. I once read a story with a disheveled main character. Most of the adjectives were well-chosen. One stood out like my sister’s bed head. The writer compared the color of the character’s hair to a shiny penny. A shiny penny is cool and smooth and clean and certainly not disheveled. Maybe a chocolate bar left in her pocket too long would have been the right color? Or the mud caked on her shoes? The way a writer describes tells the reader what to think and feel. Unlike Mister, readers usually respond appropriately.
So how do I practice choosing the right word? Here is an exercise I adapted from writing.com and used with my writer’s group:
Read the two versions of the same poem below. Underline each adjective to consider how they contribute to tone.
Example of gloomy tone:
Stark naked flower stalks
Stand shivering in the wind.
The cheerless sun hides its black light
Behind bleak, angry clouds,
While trees vainly try
To catch their escaping leaves.
Carpets of grass turn brown,
Blending morosely with the dreary day.
Winter seems the death of life forever.
Example of cheerful tone:
Stunningly dressed flower stalks
Stand shimmering in the breeze.
The cheerful sun hides playfully
Behind white, fluffy, cotton-ball clouds,
While trees whisper secrets
To their rustling leaves.
Carpets of grass greenly glow
Blending joyfully with the day.
Spring brings life to death.
Now choose a noun you’d like to describe. Write an adjective that could be used to describe the noun you’ve chosen for each of the tones.
Tone helps a reader connect to a story. So, choose your words carefully!