Tone and Voice
Sometimes, successful tone and voice come so naturally they barely need to be considered, but being aware of how they work can help to use them more effectively. Anyone can describe exactly how something happened, but it is the tone and voice of a piece that give it originality and invest it with the meaning and emotion that make it unique and interesting.
Tone: The tone is the feel of the piece, the mood, the emotion it evokes. Tone is created by many things, including word choice, sentence structure, and unity of images and metaphors. Depending on the choices an author makes, he or she can create an ominous tone, a comical tone, a sarcastic tone, or anything in-between. To see how word choice and imagery can affect the tone of a section, consider the following examples:
Gray snow fell like ash from the sky, and the smoky, black clouds above seemed to pour from an invisible fire. When the flakes settled, they covered everything like a sheet over a corpse.
In these sentences, something simple is beng described, but because of the word choice and the imagery, the tone is very ominous. Description like this might be part of a darker story, or viewed through the eyes of a very depressed character.
The snow on the ground was as white and puffy as whipped cream over hot chocolate, and the spinning flakes in the air might have been glazed gems of sugar.
Here, the same scene is described, but because of the imagery and word choice, it evokes a very different kind of emotion. The scene here seems almost warm, as if viewed by a character inside a cozy home. Instead of a story about storms and death, this might be better-suited to a scene about a family Christmas.
When creating tone, try to use images, words, and sentence structures that suit the mood of your story. Make sure none of your images clash with tone--comparing a fat uncle to a bunny in the middle of that somber funeral scene might not be the best choice. Choose a tone that is appropriate for the type of piece you are writing and the emotions you are trying to evoke.
Voice: The voice is the attitude of the narrator or author, and the speech patterns and inflections that reveal his or her attitude. While voice is important in all writing, it is essential when using the first person point of view, since it is one of the primary ways of characterizing a first person narrator. Voice is focused on the way a text is "spoken," the attitude it reveals, and this can also have an effect on tone. For example, a first person narrator might relay the same information in several different ways:
As I entered, I inadvertently collided with a gentlemen--and of course begged his pardon--but he paid me no mind and continued about his business. I thought him rather rude.
In this scene, the narrator is using a sophisticated voice, giving the impression that he's insufferably polite. The reader might guess such a narrator is stuck up and pompous, or that he's not being truthful about his anger. Linked to voice is the device of the unreliable narrator, which uses voice to suggest the narrator might be speaking untruthfully.
I was going into the restaurant when this jerk bumped into me. I muttered an apology, but he didn't even listen to me. Just kind of shoved me aside and went back to all his important business. Who does he think he is? The bastard.
The voice of this one seems a little more common, and the narrator is revealing his disgust and irritation for the man he has bumped into. Note, the sentences here are shorter, and fragments are used. This gives the impression of a more casual narrator. There's even a flash of sarcasm, and because of the narrator's voice, the reader knows when the character refers to the man's "important business," he's probably not genuine.
Voice can also be a useful tool for identifying with a certain audience. If, for example, you are writing for university professors, you could use a scholarly voice full of allusions and elegant vocabulary. But if you're writing fiction, such a voice would be inappropriate and boring. Children's books, for example, very often sound like they are told by a child.
Tone and voice work together to create a variety of meanings and emotions. Without using a strong tone and voice, any piece of writing will be skeletal at best, illedgibly dull at worst.