What is tone?

I’ve never really thought about it before – in speaking, yes, in writing, no. In speaking, we listen for tones to understand a language, for tone of voice or inflections; we listen in for intent or the emotion beneath the words.

But when it comes to writing, I never think, at least consciously, about tone. Tone is simply something that is a given, I can read between the lines and figure out if the writer is angry or elated. I might pause to appreciate the way something is written or the way a passage makes me feel, yet I’m not likely to use the word ‘tone’ in my describing a piece of writing.

So, for this week’s homework at Principals of Written English we had to write about our home using 3 different tones. I chose from the list, positive adjectives because I like where I live.


Oh, how I shall miss this apartment. It is one of a kind. It is special, made even more special because of where it is at, and what it has done for me.

I moved here after letting go of 2 crazy cats and a home in the bamboo woods. So I knew the next place, this place, had to represent something new, something more and this home delivered. It represents independence and freedom despite being close to work. And it is the place where I transitioned from self-doubt to self-acceptance.

Feed the Fish by Eric Kuns (with permission, click on image to go to original)


Hi. I’m Lani’s current apartment, her domicile, and let me just say, I’ve watched her find herself in the time that I have known her. I’ve watched her realize how important and valuable she is, and shrug of that asshole she had been fawning over for way too long.

I’ve watched her welcome in the RIGHT guy. You know, the one who adores and appreciates her. And I’ve watched her do her yoga (not quite right), cook (without tasting), and waste more time than she should on Facebook.

But she’s alright. She keeps me clean and takes good care of me. She’s even improved the place by planting bougainvilleas in the front and keeping fish to keep the bug population down. I’m glad we met, and I feel confident she will continue to take care of herself and others. She’s that kind of person, you know?

gigis money
Gigi’s Money by Eric Kuns (with permission, click on image)


It is light. It is breezy. It is sunny. It is warm, but sometimes hot. It is cool and sometimes cold. It is usually in good working order. It is functional and practical. And yes, it’s even comfortable.

122 by Eric Kuns (with permission, click on image to go to original)

These were challenging because I don’t write from tone. My process is much more organic. This had a boxed in feeling. I could only write within this ‘idea’. Yet it was an interesting exercise, nonetheless.

I liken it to character sketches, but about a place. And I began to see this exercise as a way to trick yourself into discovering how you truly feel about a person, place or situation.

For example, if you wanted to write an angry or frustrated reflection, as well as an optimistic and excited one about that guy, work, or whatever is going on in your life, I think you’d soon figure out through the writing what you are really thinking.

But now that I’m more aware of tone, I’ll probably keep an ear out for it in my own writing, especially the editing process. I think it will ensure that the point I want to get across is working its way out through the words I choose and the pace I set.

What do you think?

Angelic Belligerent by Eric Kuns (with permission, click on image)

4 replies on “✍🏼 What is tone in writing?

  1. Interesting post. I’m the same way as you in that I don’t think about tone. But in reading your three descriptions, I see how it can be a powerful tool. Really liked the one from the POV of your apt.


    1. Thanks. Yeah, it took a bit to get into it. Being told you have to write ‘funny’ or ‘humorous’ seems like a good way to stop you from being funny, but then I just thought, “be absurd, what is absurd?” Cheers.


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