To answer the question of the title, tone is how the author feels, mood is how the author makes the reader feel, and theme is an underlying meaning or main idea of a piece of literature. If that’s all that you wanted to know then alright you can leave now, thanks for coming though, but do note that you clicked on an article, and usually articles are longer than a sentence so you can assume we’re going to break this down even more for you. And not just because we want to make the article longer and more impressive, because quantity does not necessarily equal quality, but because we want to help you understand more on how to use these literary devices in your future or current works. We hope you learn something new, and now that the obligatory intros done let’s get on with the article.
What’s a Literary Device?
When an author is writing a story there are some things that need to be thrown in to give the story a little touch of life, these things are called literary devices. There are literally hundreds of literary devices and we could hardly list them all, but to list a few that you may know, there’s personification where you give human feelings to inanimate objects, metaphors and similes that both compare one thing to another, but in different ways, there is also foreshadowing, where you give subtle hints throughout a story that lead to the reveal of something. Hopefully you already knew what those things were, but if you didn’t then don’t worry we’ll be writing about some of them in future articles. Tone, mood, and theme are all literary devices that authors use to give a little more pizzazz to their story, but these literary devices hold some similarities in the way that they function in writing, which is to say that they are all trying to get the reader to feel a certain way towards something, which is one of the most important parts of story-telling. Making these 3 devices very important to learn early on, because the ability to make someone else feel something through your writing makes your work hold more significance than just a good story.
Tone is what allows an authors mind and personality to shine through the pages of a work, which is a good thing because it can help bring your audience closer to you and your creations. But tone is also used to express an authors opinion on serious matters like their favorite and least favorite colors, but we salute those brave men and women who share their favorite colors in this harsh and judgemental world. This tone is conveyed through word choice, word choice can make the difference between sarcasm and sincerity. Lets have an example between a post-apocalyptic world and a new opportunity:
Example 1: It’s been 500 years since the bomb, and the creatures lurking beyond our decrepit borders still hunt us by night. The farmlands have been trampled far to many times, the haul becomes less and less every year, I fear that if we do not move we shall all suffer.
Example 2: It’s been 500 years since the beginning, and the things living outside our boundaries continue to be misunderstood. The farmlands have been hit hard this year, it seems we may have to move on and find new opportunities before we succumb to the inevitable.
The thing that the author is trying to express their feelings on in these examples is the world around their characters, and in Example 1 the author is showing a more pessimistic view point on the world, while the second example shows a more optimistic view point, and the difference is mostly up to the words used, so remember the power of words. This can also be compared to how tone ties into theme, theme is the subject and tone is how the author feels about said subject, see it’s quite simple, the hardest part seems to just be word choice, but that just requires editing and practice, which you can get on our Weekly Writing Prompts(*cricket noises* oh come on that was smooth!). Tone can also be expressed through your characters dialogue and thoughts, but be aware that your not jeopardizing the beliefs that you’ve previously set up with this character for the sake of getting across a specific tone, this looks forced and can throw the reader out of your story. Also remember that tone can be expressed through basically every emotion that you, as a human being, can muster, which really puts us at the HQ at a disadvantage seeing as we have no emotions, but we still power through, perhaps one day our robotic hearts will find a way to simulate emotions, maybe… nah.
Mood is what an author uses to help manipulate your emotions… oh wait that sounds wrong, no what we mean is that mood can trigger certain emotions or vibes that create an appropriate atmosphere for getting the reader more invested in your story, hopefully that cleared some stuff up. Mood can be created in a couple of ways, the most important of which we’ll be going into. The first one we should get out of the way is creating mood through tone, and hopefully you should already understand what tone is, but know that your opinion and word choice can also shift how a reader feels. If you are trying to get across a mood of drama but your tone seems more humorous, then the effect you want will probably be lessened, so make sure you use things at the correct time and place. The next way that you can convey the idea of mood is the setting and how you describe it. This works in the same way that when you walk into a dirty room it feels different to a clean one, so when a character walks into a graveyard you can’t really expect your reader to feel like it’s time for a party. So be careful where your putting your characters when trying to create a specific mood, you could do this by setting up previous events to help create the basis of this emotion then pay it off later and allow the emotion to hit harder, or this can be accomplished by the inner monologue of how a character is feeling at a certain place. Setting also ties into the next thing we want to talk about which is the meteorological conditions, or in layman’s terms the weather. There’s a reason that people use “A dark and stormy night,” and it’s not laziness(though it is a contributing factor), it’s because of the mood that it sets up, the darkness and the rumbling of clouds creates a foreboding feeling of worry for what is to come. The basic rule is that the sunnier it is, the lighter the mood is, and the darker it is the darker the mood, so when trying to convey somewhere in between you could show it being cloudy or overcast making the sky grayer. Rain also shows the difference between a happy sprinkle, and a depressing downpour. There is also the conditions beyond our weather, stuff like the stars and the moon, the only things that really comfort people at night, so if you remove these things you end up creating an uneasy environment. But to finish off it is most important to remember word choice, which plays a heavy role in both tone and mood because of how vastly it changes everything.
Theme is the subject matter of tone, there is no negative spin or positive spin without mood and tone. In literature there are two types of themes, the underlying one that runs through the entirety of a story, and the side ones that pop up only here and there. It would be good to note that theme does not always have to be as serious as your favorite color from the crayon box, it can be simple things that don’t really have much bearing on real life, but having a lesser theme doesn’t hurt a story as long as it’s well written and a good read. However this doesn’t mean that by having an important theme your book automatically becomes literary gold, in fact if your theme is not conveyed correctly and believabley it’ll look tacked on and lazy, which in case you didn’t know makes for a bad book. The safest bet is to go subtle and not have your book just outright state what’s right and wrong, and instead allowing your reader to think for themselves. Just telling people what you think is correct and wrong can alienate a whole group of people, which you don’t want to do seeing as that group could’ve been filled with potential customers. Going “Blue is the best and purple sucks!” is far worse than intertwining tone and mood seamlessly into your story to help guide your reader along and make specific choices, it even makes for a more compelling story. Often times the type of genre your writing in can effect the theme of your story, this mostly applies to dystopias and post-apocalyptic genres that deal with how horrible things happened, whether it be pollution or greed. But themes can be found in almost any piece of literature.
Tone, mood, and theme are all very important to story telling as they add a level of emotion and depth to stories that allow audiences to more closely connect with them. We hope that you found something here helpful, if not we still thank you for reading through anyways, have a good time of day or night, and can’t wait to read what you write.
We have connected some links that we used to research these topics, and to also help you get a little better of a grip on these subjects. These links also include some examples to look at. Check ’em out.
Learn more about literary devices by clicking here.
Learn more about tone by clicking here.
Learn more about mood by clicking here.
Learn more about theme by clicking here.