Tone in writing equals tonnes of possibilities.
by Sarah Lambert
What is tone ?
Take any text : novels, poems, newspaper articles, scientific journals, comedy, etc, for sure you will find that apart from their content, these texts have something unique in their style. According to the dictionary, tone is the general quality or style of something. It is also the quality of a sound or of somebody’s voice. In some ways, there are as many tones as there are authors. However, writers make choices to express themselves or something in a certain manner. Tone is both transmitted by what is said and how it is said.
Why do we use tones ?
So, why do we use tones ? I have already mentionned that tones were used to express oneself or something in a certain manner. A comparison with music and the way a composer processes when writing scores can be made with texts and the act of writing. For example, a composer who wants to express something sad, may use specific combinations of notes, particular rythms and instruments. In the case of a writer, he or she will probably use emotional adjectives, images and metaphors, as well as short or long sentences. Also different tones will be used to express a variety of emotions and tones will have different effects on readers.
Example of tone in Manthropology
To be more concrete, let’s look at one example. In one chapter of his book Manthropology, Peter McAllister describes metrosexual men. In this piece of writing, the author adopts a funny, even more quirky tone to illustrate the portrait of this group of individuals. Already, the quirkyness of the tone is included in the name of the piece : Manthropology. In this case, McAllister plays with words. He also varies the rythm of the sentences, uses abbreviations, and examples. Describing this category of males, McAllister refers to David Beckham as the ‘‘iconic status […] of metrosexuality’’. Calling him Becks, McAllister creates an accomplice relationship with his readers. Obviously, the tone of this text is humouristic. Humour is used to do the portrayal of one particular group. In this case, it makes the text a lot more catchy and interesting for the reader.
How can we determine which tone to use ?
Depending on the genre, the audience, the topic, and very often the publication, the tone of a text will be different and should be appropriate. Imagine an article about an aeroplane crash and the death of its passengers written in a very ironic fashion. As a reader how would you feel about that ? If we consider the topic of a text, we may see that some of them are more susceptible to be written in a lighter tone than others. For example, have a look at the ABC science website http://www.abc.net.au/science/. The bugs bite back and Radiation from airport scanners ‘‘very low’’ are two scientific articles adopting two different tones in relation to what they say. We can see once more that the title is often the first indicator of the tone of a text.
We have briefly seen what tone is, and why and how we use a particular one. Knowing a bit more about it, does not mean however, that choosing the right tone is an easy thing. Depending on several factors such as, publication, topic, audience, and genre, it is probable that you will need time and practice to find yours.
McAllister, P. (2009). Beauty. In Manthropology. (pp 191-196). Australia. Hachette.
Kirkman, J. (2005) Good Style : Writing for Science and Technology. (chapter 15. Tone : in hard copy and in on-screen text). Hoboken : Taylor & Francis. [ EBL. Access record ].
What is tone exactly and how do you find it in stories ? (n.d) Retrieved March 31, 2011 from CliffNotes : http://www.cliffnotes.com/Section/What-is-tone-exactly-and-how-do-you-find-it-in-stories-.id-305408,article-8021.html