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Detecting Tone in a Short Story

by Kate Prudchenko, Demand Media Google

    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 "informal", "formal", "serious", "angry", "ironic" or "tender".

    Purpose of Tone

    Tone is the writer's attitude toward his subject matter and/or his 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, it can be anything, but the tone the writer chooses is a reflection of his attitude or the attitude of his characters. For instance, 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 his reader. The process of detecting tone in fiction is similar to the process of detecting tone a person's speech. For example, 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. For example, 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.

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    About the Author

    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.

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