The Difference Between Tone and Mood

Tone and mood are easy to confuse! To understand how they are different, let’s first take a look at what tone and mood each mean. From there, we can discuss what makes them different and how to identify both tone and mood in a book.

What Is Tone?

When you think about tone, think attitude! Tone is set by how the narrator expresses themselves and works to help the reader feel a connection to the narrator. Here are a few clues to help you identify a book’s tone apart from the mood:

What Descriptions Can Tell You About Tone

Take a close look at the adjectives a narrator uses. For example, how is the setting described? If the narrator uses adjectives like “dark” and “gloomy” to describe the setting, the book may have a more sinister tone!

Identifying Tone Through Sentence Structure

The way an author uses punctuation and sentence length can help you understand tone.

For example, a narrator with an optimistic tone may end their sentences with a lot of exclamation marks! A narrator with an anxious tone may have really long sentences that just keep going on and on and the character keeps talking, even when they have nothing to say.

A suspenseful tone may have chapters that end abruptly (maybe even during an important part of the story) or the chapter might end with ellipses at the end of the final sentence…

What Is Mood?

Have you ever been reading and noticed you are smiling or even started to laugh out loud? That’s because the book you are reading has an upbeat, humorous or fun mood to it! Mood is about how the book makes you feel, which is one of the main differences between mood and tone!

The mood of a book may change and it’s common for a book’s mood to get more intense as you read. Think of a horror book for example: the mood could start out pretty calm, then become stressful and then… downright scary!

You might notice a change in mood by a change in pace of the writing (as things get more intense, sentences might get shorter) and less emphasis on details (the writing could feel more to-the-point and action-filled).

The Difference Between Tone and Mood

Tone is how the narrator in the book feels. Mood is how you feel while reading the book. You may be thinking that how you feel while reading the book is the same as how the narrator in the book feels—but that’s not always the case!

The book “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” shows how tone and mood can be very different.

The tone for the book might be described as hopeful because throughout the book, the narrator and the characters are hopeful that things will get better! The children are hopeful World War II will end and they can go home. They are hopeful that they help end the eternal winter in Narnia.

However, the mood in “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” isn’t always hopeful. As the reader, when Edmund meets the White Witch, you might feel annoyed or angry that he is trusting someone he shouldn’t. Edmund is hopeful about his relationship with the White Witch— but you as the reader might not feel that way! Even though the tone of the book is hopeful, the mood in this section of the book isn’t!

Tone usually stays fairly consistent throughout the book and typically only changes to show that the narrator’s views are evolving. The mood of the book changes more frequently! The mood may be angry when you read about Edmund becoming friends with the White Witch but earlier in the book you were probably excited as the characters met Mr. Tumnus.

Identifying Tone and Mood

Now that we know what tone and mood are and how to tell them apart— let’s practice! Here are some questions to ask yourself when reading a book so you can identify the tone and the mood(s) of the writing:

Identifying Tone

  • If the narrator was your friend, how would you describe them to someone else?
  • How does the narrator describe the settings in the book?
  • Is there anything noticeable about the sentence structure? (short sentences, long sentences, ellipses, sentences in all capital letters, exclamation points, etc.)

Identifying Mood

  • What emotion do you feel while you are reading?
  • Do you notice your emotions changing throughout the book?
  • How are your emotions while reading different from the narrator’s emotions?