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Differing your voice, style, and tone

March 29, 2024
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

Keeping your storytelling on track means telling the tale with consistency. When I started my literature study in the early years of the century, the differences between style, voice, and tone were a mystery. I remember walking to a used bookstore in Iowa City one Saturday morning. I came away with a 1960 copy of A Reader's Guide to Literary Terms. Its musty paper pages told me about two kinds of style and said tone conveyed attitude. Voice? It didn't even have an entry among the 234 pages.

Style is the biggest container of these three. It's the way an author uses language to express ideas, convey emotions, and create a certain mood or atmosphere. Style is comprised of a wide range of elements such as

syntax
vocabulary
imagery
tone

Tone is the overall mood or atmosphere a writer creates through vocabulary, imagery, and other stylistic devices. It is the emotional quality that authors create. Tone can be many things, as broad as the range of human emotions: serious, humorous, sarcastic, pompous, or strident.

Voice is the overall style, perspective, feel, and quality of writing. Voice gives writing a distinctive character and makes it recognizable as the work of a particular author.

You might be tasked one day to define your style, or be told by a beta reader your tone is wobbly. Be aware of these elements of your book in revisions, and be wary of people who misuse them. When a reader says it's a matter of tone whether your heroine is from a foster home, that's not tone. It's characterization.

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