Voice, Tone, and Mood – Are They the Same?

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You don’t want to be confused about this.

Understanding voice, tone, and mood is essential to crafting a meaningful story. To be honest, I probably should have made this post before we talked about mood last week – but a comment I received on that post was what prompted this one.

The question was from cjstarlight, who asked if my thoughts on how to craft a story from a mood could be applied to writing with a certain tone as well. I was thrown for a moment – I hadn’t given much thought to tone when writing the mood post! But the more I thought about it, the more I realised how great a question it was. Mood and tone are undoubtedly intertwined. But how? Are they the same? If not, how are they different? And then the word “voice” came to my mind too, as it often gets thrown around with tone. Those two words seemed just about the same.

Ahhhhhhh!!!!

I calmed down and thought some more, then did some research, and this post is the result. I want to thank cjstarlight for prompting this line of thinking because it even helped me to clear up my foggy thoughts on this concept!

Bottom line: voice, tone, and mood are all different, but very closely connected.

To figure out what that means, we’ll start at the “top” with voice.

Voice

Voice is the particular way you write – how you construct sentences, use punctuation and literary devices, pick vocabulary… It’s like your unique signature as a writer. Though these attributes will vary slightly based on what you’re writing, the important thing to remember is that your voice is consistent across everything you write.

It’s like your physical voice. You have certain words you use often (I like “dude” and “okay”), phrases you like (for me it’s “I can’t” or “okay, but like-“), and the specific way you talk – whether it be stringing long words together or forming a series of short exclamations.

Whether you know it or not, your writing voice is similar (though note that your speaking and writing voice likely sound different). Take a look at some things you’ve written recently and notice the similarities. Cool, right?

Even though your writing voice stays consistent, your voice can change over time, just like your speaking voice can. I don’t write or speak the same way now as I did in high school and you probably don’t either.

Tone

Contrary to voice, tone will vary depending on what you’re writing. You’d write with a different tone in a comedy than you would in a romance. So yes, this has quite a bit to do with genre conventions. People expect YA books to sound a certain way, so tone will need to be adjusted accordingly. You’d want to be more direct and simplistic, whereas in something like high fantasy, you could be more long-winded and detailed.

Because of this, tone generally isn’t the way you’d start a story concept – though I’m sure it can be done and probably has been! Usually, the tone of the story evolves naturally from the characters, plot, theme, and yes, mood!

But tone will often remain consistent throughout a work. The tone can really help to get across your setting and theme. It’s what really brings readers into the mood of the story. Which brings us to…

Mood

You can check out the post from last week to learn a bit more about mood, but it’s pretty much what it sounds like: a feeling your writing evokes within the story. It’s distinct from tone because it often changes throughout a story. (At least if we’re talking about a longer work. Shorter works may contain only one mood, which is fine, but longer works can and should contain multiple moods so that the reader doesn’t get bogged down by one.)

Throughout the course of a book, there will be moments of great, serious importance. There will be other times when everyone is laughing. Then, there are still other places when the reader feels a sense of panic as the main characters flee from approaching evil. A change of mood is when your writing shifts slightly to adapt to this new feeling – though voice and tone are remaining consistent.

The Umbrella, the Man, and the Cat

This might very well be the most ridiculous analogy you’ve ever heard, but the way I thought of how voice, tone, and mood interact is like an umbrella held by a man who has a cat cradled in his arm.

Voice is the umbrella – it covers every other aspect of your writing because it is, essentially, your writing

Tone is the man holding the umbrella – he’s under the umbrella (tone) and is also supporting the cat (mood)

Finally, mood is the cat (and now you understand why this analogy is perfect) – it can’t stand on its own without the tone of the story to support it

So you see how these three elements go from general to specific, from unchanging to constantly shifting.

Have any questions about voice, tone, or mood or how they interact? Want to know more about any one of these elements? Let me know in the comments!

Happy writing!
-E.J.


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