Tone can be a bit tricky. Since it’s the product of several different things, it’s one of the more allusive tools that a writer can use. The trick is to figure out how to manipulate these different factors so that you wind up with type of tone you’re going for.
The main questions you want to ask yourself before you begin is: What tone do I want my story to give off/What tone do I want this scene to give off?
Once you’ve decided, you can begin manipulating the three key factors.
Imagery and Setting
Imagery and setting will lend themselves to the tone more than any of the other factors. Depending on how you describe what is being seen in your story, the readers will pick up on the tone you’re trying to convey. Where are they? An abandoned house? A field of blooming daisies? What’s the weather like? All of these and more will build to show the reader tone.
For example, Alexander peered out of the dust-caked window, and a chill slithered down his spine. Cobwebs floated in the corners and on the door frames, dancing in the draft of the old house. He jumped at a sudden flash of light and cowered at the resounding boom shook the panes, sounding like old bones.
Now, Sammy flung her arms out as she spun, her dress swirling like a ballerina’s tutu. The sunlight warmed the ground under her bare feet, and the bright flowers gave the sweetest smell. Her woven crown slipped over her eyes and she giggled.
See how imagery and setting lend themselves to the overall tone? Both examples were only three sentences, and you can clearly tell that the first has a creepy tone and the second has a childish joy.
How you use the narrator will add to the tone as well. What is he like? Is he happy? Is he sad? Is he angry? What’s the POV (point of view) that you show him in? All of these things add to the tone. If the narrator is happy, he wouldn’t describe the setting to be dark and gloomy; if the narrator is sad, he wouldn’t describe the setting to be peppy and cheerful. Is the reader seeing through the narrator’s eyes, or is the reader looking over his shoulder? How you narrate the story will effect the tone. It may be small, and it may be huge; it’s all up to you.
Type of Story
The type of story that you are creating has a large part in the type of tone you will wind up with. Horror stories usually have eerie tones, Mystery stories usually have suspense tones, Science Fiction stories usually have either naive or knowledgable tones, etc. Once you decide what kind of tone you want your story to have, you can fashion your story into the style of story that would best suit it. If you’re writing a story that winds up having more suspense in it than what you were originally going for, you could refashion it into a thriller. If it winds up making you glance into dark corners as you go to bed, you may want to refashion it into a horror novel if it isn’t already.
Thanks for reading!