Part 6: Tone and Mood

Dear Reader,

This chapter is going to be about connotation, tone, and mood, and how they apply to how your story appeals to your reader. This, to me, is something that a writer can already be using without realizing it, kind of like last chapter, but if you know how to use it, your writing will improve.

First of all, I need to point out that there is a difference between tone and mood, which is a common mistake.

Tone is the writer’s attitude towards the subject that they are writing about. Writers tend to give much of themselves away in their writing, something that has been proven. This means that you can take advantage of this.

For example, let’s say that I am writing a paper on the civil war. This is history, a subject that I value (b/c history is just a really long story, and I love stories) but also hate very much, for obvious reasons.

In my writing, if I wasn’t paying attention to it, the tone may be boring, or monotonous, or even hateful of the subject. If I changed my tone from being so dreadful, then my teacher might not want to set it on fire when he grades it, even though it would technically get a good grade for the information. See what I mean? As a writer, even if I am getting my point across, I want to entertain my reader and not put them to sleep. So I might make my tone more lighthearted and interested by adding in more interesting facts, maybe add in something that not many know, or add in more commentary on the facts.

Mood is different. Mood is what the reader feels when they read it. This is when you read a real nail biter and feel the suspense, when you read a romance and fall in love with the characters, when you read an action novel and fear for the characters. In horror movies, the mood is common: fear. Action movies have all of the audience cringing, which means the mood is suspenseful. Tragedies have a mood of depression. The mood is everything that you put into your writing, but it’s translated by the reader.

I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a book, I think it’s a hundred times better if it makes me cry, or bite my nails, or even throw it at the wall when it is over. And yes, that happens often. Typically, your reader is reading to engage with the story, to get sucked in and departed from reality. The mood is the key that unlocks that door. You want to suck in your reader? Make them cry. Make them hate you for the ending. Make them gasp in surprise. Make them feel something.

So how do you form a good tone or mood?

This is where connotation comes in. Basically, this is the second meaning to a word. It’s not something that you can explain very easy, so here is an example.

If you hear the word “house”, you get an image of a building in your mind, maybe with a white picket fence, or maybe with blue shutters. It’s connotation is familiar, but not comforting. It is a fairly foreign image, with a neutral meaning, so it doesn’t really contribute as much to the mood.

If you hear the word “Home”, you get an image of where you live. The connotation is positive. It comforts you, gives you the feeling of belonging. It’s warm, connecting to that feeling of family and familiarity. If you want you reader to feel this in the mood, you would use this word because it gives that belongingness, that familiarity.

If you want your mood to be fear, you are typically going to use words with negative connotation, words that make your reader turn on the lights, give them chills. Make them imagine the five senses with the sensory details I talked about in chapter five.

Speaking of chapter five, I used this as an example of figurative language and sensory details:

The hate dripped from his voice as he spat the words at me.

The connotation of the entire sentence is negative, specifically making the reader feel defensive or scared. The bolded words both have negative connotations, which is why it has that impact on the reader. These are like the building blocks to your tower of writing. Okay, that was really cheesy, but you know what I mean.

These things usually come to me when I’m writing, but I usually have the entire mood messed up. I find it easiest to figure out what you want your tone to be before you even start writing, and then only use it if you remember it while you’re writing. When you revise, you can adjust the words, but don’t take the mood and tone as something so important that you have to mess up your flow of words and ideas.

It’s just one of many aspects of writing that you will have to develop over time, that you will have to think about really hard in the grand scheme of things. It’s one of those things that you should keep in mind because you should work on it by the time you finish, but shouldn’t let it dominate your thoughts.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the tone and mood should fog that bears down on earth during a storm, covering everything with equal importance. Don’t let it smother you, but remember it enough not to drive so you don’t run off the road.

Dang that was deep.

-Kelli.

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