Often confused, but quite different, both mood and tone are important tools in an author’s arsenal. They provide a platform from which a writer can evoke an emotional response from the reader.
What is the difference between mood and tone?
The tone is not aimed at the reader but is instead the narrator’s attitude to the situation. The tone has nothing to do with the reader, it is the response that the point- of- view character has to the events they are experiencing. This can contribute towards the overall mood of the story, but does not define it and can in many ways be quite contradictory to the mood at face value. For example, an analytical tone may contribute to a mood of frustration or comedy. Think of Sheldon Cooper. He is hyper-analytical and views social situations in such light. This causes him to miss many of the social cues and this often leads to a comedic mood. Yes, this is a screenplay rather than a novel and the environmental set up is already provided for the viewer, and this does also contribute to the mood and tone of a situation, but the basic principle remains the same.The tone is the voice of the character, it gives the reader insight into the personality and disposition of the characters and lets the readers understand them more comprehensively.
Mood, on the other hand, is the atmosphere or ambiance of the writing. It is the emotion that the author is aiming to evoke in the reader. The number of moods in a story varies depending on the length of the piece that is being written. Novels give more freedom to explore multiple moods whereas short stories or poetry are often limited to one or two. The number of moods a story depicts is a very fine line. Even in novels, too many moods will detract from the story, taking away the opportunity for the reader to identify with the writing and remember the long term.Switching between moods too often can also be detrimental to your writing, for the same reason. If you do not give your readers enough time to build that connection and to feel the emotion you are trying to convey, you will struggle to reach them. The opposite is also true. If your story does not build an appropriate mood or if it does not build up enough of a mood, your readers will not have anything to resonate with. It is incredibly important to know how to establish a good mood in your writing, this is what will keep your readers reading and what will make them remember your book after they have put it down.
How do you do this?
There is a multitude of ways in which you can approach this task, but there are some elements to keep in mind that will help to build a strong and believable mood.
The physical setting of your story can heavily influence a story’s mood. For example, a scene set on a ship tossed around in a storm would immediately add tension and fear whereas a sunrise over dew-kissed fields would give an air of calm and contentment.
As we discussed earlier, the tone can influence the mood of a scene. The way the character reacts or their disposition will add layers to the mood.
3) Word choice
The words you use also contribute to the overall mood. Short, staccato words may indicate urgency or frustration, using words with positive connotations can do the opposite.
It is important to keep in mind the theme of your story. The mood is not only created by the way a writer writes but also by the overall theme. A story that centers around someone graduating may have a positive and empowering mood, whereas a story that deals with loss will have a more subdued and melancholy mood.
The mood should shift from the beginning of the scene to the end, when a character changes, allow the mood to shift to highlight this change and make it more powerful. In longer works, this can shift through scenes and not necessarily in one only. The mood needs to or can affect the action of the scene. For example, a thunderstorm in a scene where the character is angry will highlight the anger, however, this does not need to be a reflection of the character’s feelings. It can heighten the stakes of a scene. A character can be happy and having fun with a group of friends at a fair, but the mood can be manipulated to give the reader a sense of foreboding as the villain follows the character and waits for them to be alone.
When you write, think holistically about the elements, word choice, theme, setting, and tone. Limiting yourself to only one or two of these elements in your scenes will severely limit your ability to create an engaging and believable mood. Sometimes it helps to create mood boards, brainstorm words that describe the mood to you, find images that depict the mood you are aiming for and list the words to describe it. Refer back to these word lists when you get stuck.Be innovative with your mood and subvert the expectations of your readers. It’s easy to write the expected mood for a scene, for example, an elated mood for the birth of a child, but creating interesting combinations, like a lighthearted ghost story, will be more memorable to your readers.
As always, much of this will take practice and the more you write and the more feedback you receive from beta readers, the better and easier this will become.