Detecting Tone in a Short Story
The tone of a story is the implied attitude of the writer or the speaker toward the subject, the material and/or the audience.
In order to detect the tone of the story, the reader should look for the emotional meaning or the emotional coloring of the story. In particular, the reader should examine certain aspects of the story such as diction and mood.
The tone of a short story may be described with terms like:
Purpose of Tone
Tone is the writer's attitude toward her subject matter and/or her reader. The purpose of tone is to create an atmosphere or mood. The atmosphere or mood is what the reader feels as a result of the tone that the writer presents in his short story.
The tone of a short story may be satirical, passionate, sarcastic, or humorous. In other words, tone can be anything, but the tone the writer chooses is a reflection of her attitude or the attitude of her characters.
The purpose of tone is to create an atmosphere or mood.
A writer of a children's story might use humor to reflect a casual and fun attitude toward his subject.
Looking for Attitude
When trying to detect the tone of a short story, the reader should look for the writer's attitude toward the subject of the story and/or her reader.
The process of detecting tone in fiction is similar to the process of detecting tone a person's speech.
A customer service representative might use a detached or abrasive tone when speaking to a customer.
This tone reflects his apathy or unpleasant attitude toward the customer. Likewise, the writer’s tone reflects his attitude toward the story and/or the reader.
Detecting Tone using Diction
In order to detect the tone in a short story, the reader should examine the story's diction and mood. Diction refers to the types of words that the writer chooses to tell the story. The writer’s attitude or tone is often expressed by the connotation of words; therefore, diction often reveals the story's tone.
A writer may use certain expressions or hyperbole to indicate a sarcastic attitude or tone. Likewise, he might use vulgar language to indicate his disgust with a particular subject.
Detecting Tone using Mood
In detecting tone, the reader should also examine the kind of atmosphere or mood that the story creates. The tone of the story creates a certain atmosphere, evoking particular feelings in the reader.
If the writer builds a lot of tension and creates a sense of mystery then the reader will feel an atmosphere of anticipation and danger. This mood is a reflection on the tone of the story. The tone of this kind of story might be serious, formal or passionate.
The tone of the story creates a certain atmosphere, evoking particular feelings in the reader.
Examples of words to describe tone:
Examples of Tone in a Short Story
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Describing idyllic country existence
One warm afternoon, Fern and Avery put on bathing suits and went down to the brook for a swim. Wilbur tagged along at Fern's heels. When she waded into the brook, Wilbur waded in with her. He found the water quite cold-too cold for his liking. So while the children swam and played and splashed water at each other, Wilbur amused himself in the mud the edge of the brook, where it was warn and moist and delightfully sticky and oozy.
Every day was a happy day, and every night was peaceful.
Describing a Barn
The Barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell-as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world.
Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.