So you wanna set the mood, baby? Part 3


Have you done something different with your hair? It looks nice. Touchable. And that color really brings out your eyes. Here, let me top off your drink, darlin’. Time to talk about mood again.

Mood happens. Whether you are conscious of it or not. So it makes sense to be aware of it, mm? So you don’t, say, write a really chipper blog post about cremation, or melancholy web copy for a party planner. And we establish mood with setting, diction, and now tone.

Setting was pretty straightforward, diction a little less so, and tone is the most elusive. We’ve sort of been building up to the biggie.

“But Steph,” you say, because you are a smart little tomato, “Isn’t tone the same thing as mood?” Kinda. But no. But yeah. But not really.  

Obviously, mood and tone both relate to emotion, right? We use those terms almost interchangeably in regular speech. But when we’re talking lit crit, they mean different things in terms of application.

Mood, overall, is the feeling you want to evoke in the reader. Tone is the emotional approach you take as the writer — your implied emotions.

Even when you aren’t writing in first person, you still control the point of view, and as a writer, the way you approach the task will shape the reader’s perception. Famous example? Sure, I gotcha. Let’s take a look at dear, sweet, broken, gloomy Edgar Allen Poe.

Poor Ed. He had a rough time of it. Sold his most famous poem, The Raven, for nine bucks. Even in 1845, that wasn’t a ton of cash. But I digress — take a peek at the first verse.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

How does the narrator feel in this passage? Well, he’s not about to cavort on the beach outside his new condo in Boca Raton. Dreary, weak, weary — clearly, our pal is bummed.

I know. I know. How does this differ from diction, which we covered earlier? Not gonna lie, kids, there’s an overlap. But diction concentrates on individual words, and even on the size, shape, and repetition of those words, where this is all about emotion.

So! Setting, diction, tone. How about an example of using all three together. This is one of my absolute favorite ads. Just text. No flashy images. But holy crap does it get the point across. An absolute triumph from creative director and copywriter Paul Little formerly of TBWA Vancouver, along with art directors Angela Sung and John Williamson. Only eight words, but just try forgetting it.

Paul Little Lung Association British Columbia

The implied setting is dry, even clinical. The sort of place where you find informational brochures. The diction is similarly dry, a very matter-of-fact approach devoid of any challenging or unusual words. And the tone joins in, almost unemotional in the extreme, thus giving the impression of not an if, but a when.

That’s mood, kids. How are you gonna use these tools to create your own?

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