Tone Examples in Literature

In our article on tone we mention that a tone can be described by nearly any adjective (tone words). We also gave some examples of positive and negative tone words. A great place to find out what tone is being used and learn more about is to hear directly from the authors themselves! Book critics will often sometimes discuss the tone of an author's work in a book review. Here are some examples.

Tone is Everything: Jonathen Franzen on tone in The Corrections. He tells The New Yorker that tone is everything: "Tone was the single hardest problem I had to solve. I'm by no means the only fiction writer who'll tell you this. Tone is everything. And tone is delicate-hard to find, easy to lose—so I have a superstitious aversion to saying much about it. But I was never worried about clashing, no."

Warm and Quirkily Funny: The Horn Book says Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate has a warm and quirkily funny. "The tone is warm and, occasionally, quirkily funny, but it doesn't sugarcoat the effects of hunger and vulnerability."

Melancholy: In a review of Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders, Publishers Weekly says melancholy is the the novel's dominant tone.

Animist: Aesop has been described as using an "animist tone" in his famous tales. (source)

Hypnotically Poetic: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire "hypnotically poetic in tone."

Adventurous and Spirited: Collins Classics describes The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas as "adventurous and spirited in tone."

Respectful, sorrowful: Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club novel is described as having tones that include "bemused, sorrowful, speculative" and "respectful."

Dark and Violent: The tone is William Golding's classic frightening tale Lord of the Flies is described as "dark, violent, pessimistic, tragic" and "unsparing."

Light-hearted: Ian McKellan on the tone in J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit: "The whole atmosphere of the book, the tone of 'The Hobbit,' is of a kid's adventure story, told in the first person by Tolkien, who is introducing young people to the notion of Middle-earth. A lot of it is very light-hearted." (source)

Creepy: Stephen J. Cannell on the building tone in some Stephen King stories: "You can, of course, build upon the tone in the story - Stephen King is a genius at this. In several of his stories, the atmosphere starts out perfectly normal, and becomes more and more creepy as the tale goes on." (source)

Ironic: Miguel de Cervantes' tone in Don Quixote has been described as "ironic." (source)

Witty, Wry, Sophisticated and Funny: Jerrilyn Farmer's Dim Sum Dead is described as "witty, wry, sophisticated and funny" in our review.

Complete Naturalness: Gabriel Gacia Marquez on selecting the tone for One Hundred Years of Solitude. He told the Paris Review: "I had an idea of what I always wanted to do, but there was something missing and I was not sure what it was until one day I discovered the right tone—the tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness."

Intentional, Matter-of-Fact: Colson Whitehead's tone in The Underground Railroad is described as an "intentional, matter-of-fact tone, which is magnetic and chilling" in a review from The National Book Review.

Deliciously Sinister: The jury for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy described the tone in The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier as "deliciously sinister." (source)

Ironic and Satricial: Hard Times by Charles Dickens is described as having an "openly ironic and satirical tone" by Collins Classics.