The Difference Between Tone and Mood In Writing

Mood and tone are essential elements of any written work

Both come from the author’s mind but are also influenced by the reader’s.

Both factor into a reader’s experience. Both make a story more affecting and memorable. 

But what is the difference between mood and tone?

Generally speaking, one is used to create the other.

But we’re going beyond that to show examples of both tone and mood in context. 

The goal here is to help you make the most of both. 

Tone vs. Mood: 4 Key Differences 

The tone of a story is the feeling an author has set. A reader can analyze the tone by looking for specific words that describe an author’s feelings. 

difference between mood and tone

Much like in a conversation or a speech, tone can change the meaning of a story drastically. Tone can also offer insight into the author’s personal views or experiences.

The mood of a story is the feeling the reader gets. Mood cannot be set in stone by an author. Certain word choices and settings can enhance mood, but each reader may have a different feeling about the story. 

While mood is related to tone, it’s more variable. Your book has one author (probably) but many readers, each with their own perspective and personal beliefs. 

Each scene may be set with a tone, but a reader’s interpretation may change the mood considerably. A story set in the mountains may bring a sense of peace to a reader who loves climbing and hiking. 

In the same way, it can bring anxiety or foreboding to a reader who is scared of heights.

Mood vs. Tone – A Breakdown of the Differences: 

  1. Tone is the feeling an author conveys in a story. Mood is the feeling a reader gets.
  2. Tone can offer insight into an author’s views and experiences. Mood can provide insight into a reader’s views and experiences.
  3. Tone is something an author can convey clearly. Mood is dependent on the reader’s feelings towards a piece. An author can influence mood but can’t directly control it.
  4. Tone happens when an author ‘tells.’ Mood occurs when an author ‘shows.’

What Are Examples of Mood and Tone?

To make this clearer, let’s look at some tone and mood examples.

Examples of Tone in Literature 

Example #1: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White:

“But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now.”

Though the mood of this scene may be sad, the tone is peaceful. A reader may find themself feeling melancholic while reading, but the author conveys a message of peace and acceptance.

Example #2: “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe

“It was a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly, more vehemently, but the noise steadily increased.”

The tone is anxious, guilty, and crazy. The author conveys this through the use of many adjectives in a fast-paced writing style.

Example #3: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do.”

Through the use of negative adjectives, the author conveys an ominous and suspenseful tone.

Examples of Mood in Literature

Example #1: “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, / Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

The limited information in this poem can bring the reader a feeling of mystery and curiosity.

Example #2: Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

“The river, reflecting the clear blue of the sky, glistened and sparkled as it flowed noiselessly on.”

The reader may feel a sense of peace and calm when reading this passage.

Example #3: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

difference between mood and tone

The author manages to convey an indifferent, nearly emotionless tone. Still, readers are likely to find themselves feeling melancholic, depressed, or even hopeless.

Adjectives are important for both tone and mood. 

Examples of tone words:

  • Calm
  • Curious
  • Desperate
  • Grim
  • Humble
  • Intimate
  • Objective
  • Righteous
  • Sonorous
  • Whimsical

Check out this post for more examples of tone words. 

Examples of mood words:

  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Confident
  • Depressed
  • Exhilarated
  • Grateful
  • Haunted
  • Indifferent
  • Light-hearted
  • Morose

Check out this post for more examples of mood words. 


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Setting an Intended Mood / Intentional Mood-Setting

When you want to set a specific mood, you might use both tone words and mood words to create it.

difference between mood and tone

A few examples can make this easier to apply to your own writing.

Example #1: Setting an Ominous Mood

Here are some words you might use to set a tone for a mystery or horror story

  • Gloomy 
  • Foreboding
  • Dark
  • Misty
  • Murky 
  • Prickling 
  • Dread 

Example #2: Setting a Peaceful Mood

The following words can help you create a peaceful mood (possibly for a “calm before the storm” scenario): 

  • Quiet
  • Tranquil
  • Sleepy 
  • Content 
  • Untroubled 
  • Resting 
  • Smooth 

Example #3: Setting a Tense or Anxious Mood

These words can help you create tension in a scene: 

  • Worried 
  • Agitated 
  • Rough 
  • Unsettled
  • Antsy 
  • Pacing
  • Jagged 

Example #4: Setting a Romantic Mood

Which of these might you use to create a romantic mood for a scene between two of your characters? 

  • Butterflies 
  • Sultry 
  • Intimate 
  • Anticipating 
  • Scented 
  • Candlelit 
  • Flirty 

Example #5: Setting a Sad or Melancholy Mood

Use any of the following to generate a somber mood for one or more of your characters:

  • Grieving 
  • Dissonant 
  • Detached 
  • Isolated 
  • Numb 
  • Aching 
  • Alone 

Conclusion

Both mood and tone play essential roles in the story’s background and setting. An author can use adjectives and turns of phrase to convey both of these. 

Mood is dependent mainly on the reader, but the author can use certain words and phrases to convey an intended mood.

Both of these elements make up the feeling of a piece. It’s essential to know the difference and how best to incorporate both into your writing. 

How will you set your intended mood for the story you’re writing now?

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