How Do We Use Tone to Evoke Emotion in Our Readers?

Renea Guenther, How Do We Use Tone to Evoke Emotion in Our Readers?, Editing Your Novel, Revision, Description, Setting, Style, Tone, Word Choice

The story elements we use determine whether our readers will laugh, cry, or be sickened or excited.

Tone is the emotion you want to convey to your reader. How you want them to feel when they read your novel.

It affects the story’s mood and draws attention to your word choice.

Portraying the wrong emotion can turn a horror story into a comedy or a romance into a thriller.

So, making the right choices can be essential to your novel’s success.

There are many ways we can create the proper tone for stories:


The use of light, color, the character’s surroundings, and props all affect the story’s tone and should suit the story you want to tell and should differ based on genre and storyline.

For example: If you’re writing a horror story where a young couple gets lost and comes upon a group of cannibals, you should use dark and troubling images, such as torture implements, traps, and lots of blood and gore.

Good settings for this genre and storyline would be desert, underground, wild forest, ramshackle or seemingly abandoned buildings, dank caves, and so on.

Whereas if you were writing a romance where a young veterinarian meets a billionaire bringing in a stray dog he accidentally hit, you would use images of fancy restaurants, limos, mansions alternated with images of her small apartment, the clinic, the animals she cares for, etc.


The characters we use can have the same effect through their actions and how they think and feel.

The circumstances of the characters’ lives and how they react to the world around them can show us a lot about the character.

And the interaction between characters can be a goldmine for setting the tone for a story.

For example: In the horror story above, we could use someone raised to survive on anything that came their way with no regards to morality, a psychopath fascinated by torture, or someone that eats the flesh and sells the organs for money.

In the romance, the veterinarian could be living paycheck to paycheck and sees the billionaire as frivolous with his money, or she could be awestruck someone of his standing would want to spend time with someone like her.


The words we use can be particularly effective in conveying emotion and should be paid particular attention to as they can be easily misconstrued if used in the wrong context.

In the horror example above, I used the following words and phrases: cannibals, torture, traps, blood and gore, ramshackle, abandoned, eating flesh.

These are all disturbing words and brings to mind lots of dark images and a sick feeling to the stomach. They create a sense of disgust and extreme danger.

Whereas in the romance, I used: veterinarian, billionaire, stray dog, fancy, limos, mansions, clinic, paycheck to paycheck, frivolous.

These create a sense of two vastly different worlds clashing with a lighthearted yet serious feel to it.

In a sense, every element of your story affects its tone in some way and should be used to create a distinct feel that fits the genre and the experience you want to give your readers.

Think of tone as your story’s backbone. It all comes down to how you want your reader to feel.



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Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.

She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.

She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.

From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.

She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.

When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.

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One thought on “How Do We Use Tone to Evoke Emotion in Our Readers?

  1. Pingback: How to Choose the Right Setting for Your Story – Renea Guenther

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