While you can’t change the personality of a character or of yourself as the author, you can play around with the tone to create a compelling story!
Some stories have a humorous tone, some have a serious and melancholy tone.
In this article, we'll break down what writing tones are, provide examples of different tones, and give tips on how to develop your own writing tone.
Table of Contents
What is a writing tone?
Whether you’re writing a blog post or a novel (or even a caption these days!), it’s important what is meant by a ‘tone’ in writing as well as the different types and when to use them.
A writing tone reflects how the author feels about a subject which, in turn, affects the mood of the reader.
Authors often confuse ‘tone in writing’ with ‘voice in writing’ which is a common mistake – so let’s break it down:
While voice refers to who you are and your specific personality with what you write, a tone is the attitude in which you write it.
Voice = what you write
Tone = how you say it
What are the different writing tones?
Like emotions, the list of writing tones are almost endless. They span far and wide, and can vary with every character and scene. But here’s a rundown of the most common tones for authors to utilize in their writing:
- Formal – Uses very proper grammar, longer sentence structure and complex phrasing with very little contractions. Commonly used in academic, professional contexts.
E.g. “Due to the lack of information received, it’s difficult to reach a decision on the best next steps to take. We will have to give a few more days to this matter”.
- Informal – Uses simpler sentences and conversational tone to target a specific target audience and achieve expression.
E.g. “Nah – I’ve got a ton of work to do so I won’t be able to make it tonight. Maybe tomorrow if you’re still up for it?”
- Humorous – Used to create a positive and comfortable mood for your reader. Be aware that this can be a hard tone to achieve because humor is so subjective!
E.g. The old man was about as charming as an eel, but when it came to cricket, he turned into a young boy again – leaping and yelling alongside the field!”
- Serious – Used to signify importance and a pivotal moment in a story. This can be done by using capitals to mimic a louder volume, or by word choices that reflect the severity of a situation.
E.g. “John watched his phone as it lit up on the table. He knew the chances of good news being received were slim to none. His hand felt weak as he reached for his phone.”
- Concerned – A concerned tone is created by detailing an action and setting a very clear picture in the reader’s mind to elicit fear and worry.
E.g. “David’s hand tentatively reached for the handle as he shakily held his breath.”
- Sarcastic – Using italics to emphasize specific words as a way of mockery or irony. It often carries a negative tone but can also convey a sense of humor.
E.g. “Tell me something I don’t know!”
- Optimistic – Used to convey a sense of hope and positive outlook on future outcomes. Exclamation points are common in optimistic tones to convey a non-threatening message, and elude happiness.
E.g. “I’m so certain you can get through this”, Sophie said with a reassuring smile.
- Pessimistic – Reflects a negative view of a situation and a belief that things will not improve. Writers can achieve this tone through excessive questioning, doubtful language and short sentence structure to portray a sense of failure.
E.g. “This whole campaign is built on empty promises. You really think they can achieve all that?”
- Apologetic / Sincere — A tone used to acknowledge a character’s mistake and convey self-awareness and a deep level of regret.
E.g. “As a young adult, I was always disrespectful to my parents. I made life harder for them despite everything they did for me. Looking back, I should have never taken them for granted.”
- Compassionate – A tone used to convey sympathy and a level of understanding towards someone else. Often mixed with a serious tone, the goal is to make the reader feel sorry for a subject and place that thing as the protagonist.
E.g. “It’s so disheartening to see how they’re treating the workers. It seems like a never-ending cycle and we should be doing everything we can to help them!”
- Disapproving – A tone that reflects a strong dissatisfaction toward a subject and makes it clear that something is not okay, without being aggressive or loud.
E.g. Kyle’s dad glanced over at him as he tiptoed into the house at 3am. “There’s no justification for why you’ve just come home now”, Kyle’s dad uttered as he walked up the stairs.
How to develop your writing tone
Now that we’ve looked at a handful of the many tones you can utilize as a writer, let’s talk about how you can begin developing your own writing tone.
Remember Your Audience
The first step is to remember your target audience. Who are you talking to and what do you want them to feel?
Most readers are loyal to specific genres of fiction so they already know what mood they want to be in when picking up a book or even a magazine. It’s a way for them to escape reality so don’t throw them into humor if they were actually looking for suspense!
Don’t be Afraid of Detail and Description
Setting a specific tone requires you to play on the character personality types and set a clear picture in the mind of readers. The way to do this is to go bold with your descriptive phrases and words.
If your character is feeling depressed and hopeless, their inner dialogue may be critical of their surroundings by describing moldy walls and dirty floors, whereas if your character is hopeful about their new home, you’ll want to emphasize the bright colors and vibrant flowers.
Be Picky with Your Choice of Words
As we mentioned earlier, your tone is reflecting your attitude towards something so it’s important that you’re intentional and deliberate in your writing. Choose words for the purpose of adding (or taking away!) value to a subject.
Here’s an example of how tone can change with your choice of words:
“Why would you do that to me? I thought we were friends.”
“I should have known you would do this, despite everything.”
The first line is a confused tone, signifying to the reader that the character is clueless and emotionally distressed.
The second line is part of the same dialogue but the words of choice depict a disappointed tone, reflecting the character’s feeling of being betrayed once again.
Think about how you want your character to be perceived. Are they witty or are they easily fooled? Are they hopeful in calamities or more pessimistic? Your tone will help you relay the right characteristics.
Top Tip: The art of writing tones is that it subtly conveys a message to your readers and helps them sense the attitude your character has, rather than forcing your audience to feel a certain emotion!
Summary of writing tones
As we’ve seen, there are many types of tones that you can play with as a writer. While you’re not bound to use just one tone, often consistency can help your readers build a clearer image of your character!
So whether it’s through a string of words and phrases you’ve carefully picked out, or whether it’s through varied lengths in sentences, tones are a great way to help you set the aura of your story and be as expressive as possible.