The difference between tone, mood, atmosphere & voice
Updated: Mar 27
Whether you are writing a novel or short story, or are analysing one, defining tone, mood, atmosphere & voice, and recognising the differences between them is both important, and difficult. The differences are subtle, but their use can make a real difference in how a reader reacts to a story, so are well worth exploring.
“Tone” is the writer’s attitude that is expressed in the writing.
For example, the tone of a novel could be suspenseful, because the author holds back certain information to create this feeling.
Tone is also generally thought of as describing the work as a whole, rather than a particular section.
How do you create tone in your writing?
It helps to decide what kind of tone you want. Often it depends on the genre. If its a mystery novel, then the tone should be suspenseful, if its a romance novel then its likely that you’ll want a certain amount of sexual tension. It’s often more the plot than the actual word choice that creates this tone, as the plot generally builds up to a climax that reveals it.
While “tone” is the writer’s attitude, “mood” is the feeling the reader gets from the writing. Tone often describes the writing overall, but the mood of a piece of writing can change throughout it. For example, at the death of a character the mood could be depressed or sad, but at the discovery of a long lost friend, the mood could be upbeat and joyful. A readers mood often goes hand in hand with a characters, if the character-reader relationship is strong enough.
How do you create mood in your writing?
While tone is often created using plot devices, mood comes more from word choice and sentence structure. Mood can be created in descriptions of the surroundings, feelings of the characters and actions that take place. Choosing appropriate words for different events will create the mood that is right for a particular scene.
The definition of “atmosphere” is debatable. Some say that it is the overall feeling created from the tone and mood, but others argue that it is the emotions and feeling created from the character. I prefer the character definition as how a character’s is feeling will reflect on the reader, making it important for the writer to think about.
How do you create atmosphere in your writing?
Atmosphere is about understanding character feelings and getting in their head. It is often most effective for 1st person and 3rd person limited POVs, but as long as your reader can have a relationship with the characters, and feel their pain and joy, then atmosphere can be created. For the most part, atmosphere is about choosing the correct emotions that go with a certain character and the situation they are in. It is be best to concentrate on one characters feelings per scene, rather than trying to cover everyone, because otherwise the atmosphere becomes diluted and is harder to relate to.
What is voice?
Voice is a little more difficult to explain, because it cannot be pinpointed to a particular part of a story. Voice is the unique style of the author which conveys the author’s views and personality within the writing.
In my view, voice combines, tone, mood, atmosphere and style to create an overall ‘feel’ in your writing, which generally translates across all pieces of work.
When a writer has a strong voice, those familiar with their work will be able to pick one of their books without looking at the cover, and recognise their writing. The author may have written many books, all with different styles, moods and tones, but the way they combines them is distinctive, even if one book is written in first person, and another in third.
How do you get ‘voice’ in your writing?
Voice tends to emerge naturally in writing. The more you write, the closer you will come to discovering it. A lot of it comes down to word choice and sentence structure. Shorter words and sentences create a more abrupt voice, and when combined with particular moods and tones, it becomes quite distinctive.
As a writer, the most important thing to remember with voice is not to let outside opinions on your work sway you away from your natural voice. If someone says that your work could be “funnier”, but your voice isn’t naturally humorous, forcing it into your writing won’t work. Once you begin to discover aspects of your voice however, it is easier to manipulate them, and use them to your advantage.