1. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Style? Voice? Tone?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by minstrel, Dec 22, 2014.

    I usually use these terms almost interchangeably. There was a thread a few days ago that brought up differences between them. Maybe we can clear this up here.

    What is style? How is it different from tone? How is it different from voice?

    Discuss!
     
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  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    The use of "voice" and "tone" to describe text is a pet peeve of mine. Voice and tone are qualities of speech. Using them to describe text feels like pretending text is something it is not. (Similar to my pet peeve with "show, don't tell" since all text is, by definition, telling.) So, I do not use those terms.

    As for style: there are two basic aspects of text: what the text refers to, and how the text refers to it. Style is the "how". Style encompasses what others might refer to as "voice" and "tone". The style of speech does include voice and tone.

    There are terms to describe various stylistic aspects of text: register, diction, attitude, mood, idiolect, vocabulary, etc.

    In common usage, I think "voice" refers to one character's patterns of syntax and vocabulary that distinguish him from another character, while "tone" refers to patterns of syntax and vocabulary used in one context that distinguish it from another context.

    Which is analogous to voice and tone in speech: voice is the acoustic quality of speech by which we identify the speaker; tone is the acoustic quality of speech that indicates how the speaker feels about what is being said.

    I would say idiolect is the quality of text analogous to voice, and the quality analogous to "tone" includes several qualities, namely register and attitude.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2014
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    In my mind, voice is the character's voice. I don't see why it should bother you @daemon simply for not referring to something audible. For example my character is an eleven yr old in one scene and a 17 yr old in another. She has to have a different voice for the reader to feel the character is who I say she is.

    And earlier on I found my characters having too similar of a voice. I had to rewrite the characters' dialogue, actions and reactions/feelings to distinguish between them, show they came from different backgrounds, they were different genders and so on.

    I think style reflects the author, how they handle their stories overall. Certainly Kurt Vonnegut has a different writing style from JK Rowling and those authors' styles are nothing like Thomas Pynchon.

    I don't know enough about the definition of tone in the context of literature to comment intelligently on this term.
     
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  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I like to think Voice and Style are interchangeable as they're the mechanics of your writing ( word choice & sentence structure, etc. ) Unless you mean a character's voice.
    I'm not too sure about tone, so I'll skip that one it sounds like mood - which is one of my favorite subjects on writing. And for me the difference between Voice, Style and Mood would be that Voice and Style are the mechanics while Mood is the feeling those mechanics achieve. Mood is the outcome of Style.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Interesting link Shadowwalker! - connotations - I keep forgetting that one and it's a good word when discussing word choices.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    See, I look at that link and ask myself, why do I need this vocabulary if it has no direct effect on my writing. I can understand why someone like @Lemex would care given his degree in literature. If the vocabulary is useful to you, then the differences between tone, style and voice matter. They don't matter to me because I have no use for them at this time.

    The character's voices on the other hand had very important meaning for me and the vocabulary, the characters' voices, then became a useful term. It's interesting to me as I read different authors to think of their overall styles, so the meaning of style then becomes useful.

    But the esoteric differences between tone, style and voice all in reference to the author, I don't at the moment have a need to define a work in such terms.
     
  8. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although stylistic differences are very obvious from writer to writer, I think it's pretty hard to nail down an exact definition.
    I always hear the term, "the writer finding his voice", as if we come into this as prepubescents and are waiting for a hormonal shift to get us going.
    Tone, I take to be the mood or feeling you're after. Happy, stressed...
     
  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let's say I'm visiting France.
    Content would be France.

    Tone would be equivalent to the weather. Is it sunny, is it rainy, is it cold? Is there a storm on the horizon?

    Style would be my schedule. How long am I seeing the countryside? When am I seeing Paris? In what order? Am I going by bus?

    Voice is the final thing you get out of that trip, whether you realize it or not. It's that intangible feeling that describes the experience, and it's supposed to be profound. You may of course not experience this sensation at all. After all, not every work has a strong voice.


    Certainly, I'd say all three terms work together and can often be attributed to the same things in a text, but voice is by far the most important.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmmm.

    My definitions, for which I claim no grounds whatsoever:

    Style is exhibited with mechanics. Word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, etc.

    Tone is about mood and attitude. Cynical, cheerful, sentimental, dark, careful, offhand, etc.

    Voice is a combination of style, tone, and other things. Voice is what makes you read a few paragraphs and say, "Oh, that's Author X. Isn't he great?" or "Oh, God, that's Author Y. Burn it."

    All three of them are things that can be exhibited in a few paragraphs, rather than requiring an entire, beginning-to-end, piece for expression.
     
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  11. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    But often, they aren't really all that esoteric.
    @123456789, gave a pretty good break down above, but really, to talk about them with any sort of justice we'll need examples. I'll use the first page (pretty much) of Pride and Prejudice, the first page (pretty much) of the James Joyce short story 'The Sisters', and the first stanza of Paradise Lost, that should give us a diverse range of examples from English Literature to show what I mean.

    Identifying Style, Voice, and Tone, are actually fairly simple skills, I taught it last year when I was teaching A-level English. It's common people over-think them - or at least they over think style and tone, 'Voice' I have less of a grasp on, but I'll give it my best shot.

    Tone - this one is by far the easiest, because it's the most concrete. Tone is the way the piece of text feels, and has a lot to do with the sound the text produces, especially when read aloud. It is also affected by content. There isn't a brutal decapitation at the start of Pride and Prejudice, it would seriously affect, and undermine the spirit and voice of the text. To say nothing of what it would do to the tone. When most people read the section of Pride and Prejudice above, they understand the text that follows will likely be this rather charming, witty, erudite novel; and it just comes down to the way Austin has used words in the sentence. When I read 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. | However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.' I can almost imagine Austin herself smiling at her own cleverness as she wrote those words.

    With James Joyce the tone is a little more somber, Joyce's story has all the qualities of something much more serious, grounded, and coarse than the Austin, as we can get that just from the way the first two sentences feel 'THERE was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse.' Unlike the long eloquence of the Austin, Joyce is much more punchy and direct. 'There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stoke.' and 'Night after night I had passed the house' gives us the impression the author has had something to repeat, why? It builds a mystery, and mystery is something that barely has a place inside an Austin novel.

    With Milton, just look at it, the diction is so high it is almost a parody of itself. The tone is one of supreme grandeur, the poet is setting out his argument, and attempting to speak for God himself. The tone is heavy, the atmosphere is thick, the everything about the feel is sweeping, and ball-shrivillingly pretentious.

    Style - that can be described as the usual way words are used by the author. Each author should have their own style, and each era has it's own style. You wouldn't expect something written like Austin to have been written in the day of Joyce, because by the time Joyce was writing the usual written text was phrased differently, and different words were popular. A simple example, few people in Joyce's time would write something like 'that a single man in possession of a good fortune' unless they were being sarcastic, they'd likely say something 'That a young bachelor, with plenty of money'. The diction has changed between Joyce and Austin. And this is to say nothing of the difference in style between Milton and Austin, or Milton and Joyce. You should see that guy's prose too, if you think 'But it's an epic poem' is a reasonable objection. Also, content affects the style, but in a different way. Tone is the way the content and words make the author feel, and the more sensitive the reader the better they will pick up on the tone. You and I, @GingerCoffee, may have similar styles of writing from someone like Jane Austin's perspective, but we will as personal choices, and the effect of our personalities, we will emphasize certain things more, or differently in the narration - I may hang on certain images more than you do, and you may hang on other images more than I do. It's all about the personal linguistic choices used that signify 'This was written by this guy, and I know this because no one else writes exactly like this' - that is a person's style.

    Voice - I always have less of a grasp on that, so you'll have to forgive me if this isn't very satisfactory, but I would say the voice is the natural sound of the author, it's sort of a combination of the two, because an author can use different styles in the same work for effect. Like Joyce's Ulysses, which uses 19th century, Romantic-style prose in a section next to a long stream of consciousness. Unlike Tone and Style, the Voice is not at all affected by the content, it is just the words, the 'voice'.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2014
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  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    But again, are these things that most writers really keep on the front burner while actually writing their stories? Or are they things that are discussed in classes and then fade into the background? I'm not saying they don't exist, but I think these are among those 'mechanical' things that new writers worry about (and make very noticeable in their forced attempts) and more experienced writers just smoothly incorporate without thinking. JMO, but the more we worry about the story and the less we worry about these sorts of things, the more they will develop as they should - naturally.
     
  13. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    In my experience it's actually a little of both.

    What classes on things like style and tone do is make students more careful readers, from what I've seen. It isn't something they think about consciously, in a really odd sort of way, but once they are made aware of them it is something they pick up on more and more, they just use other language to express the essential idea.

    I don't remember ever getting a piece of homework from a student that said something like 'The tone of the piece is blah blah, and here's an example to show', but I did get back homework that said 'At this point things change and become more serious. This has such and such effect on how the scene pans out'. I know, marking that work, that the student has picked up on the shift in tone, and the fact they haven't used the exact words 'there has been a shift in tone' is not important. The important thing is they are much more aware of what the author is doing to his prose to have some control over how the reader reads the work, and I can't see how that cannot help a budding writer.


    I did teach literature, though, and in linguistics classes students are required to focus much more on the mechanics of writing English. If literature is teaching what an author does, linguistics is the theory behind how an author does what he does. There things like identifying tone, syntax, clauses, and germanic vs. latanic words becomes much more of a demanded skill; it is much more academic and 'nitty-gritty', which is why I don't teach it. You could he helped as a writer learning linguistics, but I don't think it's important compared to passion and talent in all honesty - the most impressive thing technically can be boring as all hell.

    It's like cinema in a way, something like 300 can be perfectly shot and perfectly edited (the style and tone - you are not even changing the vocabulary) but I personally found it to be the most boring film I've ever seen in my life.
     
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  14. Mike Hill
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    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

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    As a non-native this is a very interesting discussion. I would like to increase my vocabulary and most importantly use new words.
    So keep on doing what you are doing.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. I make a conscious choice about character voice in my stories, but once it is established it flows more or less naturally, without me always having to think about it.
     
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  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think if you're a new writer trying to consciously achieve these things could screw you up. It's kinda like the occasional newbie that shows up with an 'important piece' with a lot of high falutin' words but no coherent message. They've lost sight of simplicity and nuance and got themselves caught in a tangle of words. But it is like a rite of passage - something nearly every writer goes through. Practice, criticism, experimenting will sort it out.

    The only thing I'm conscious about when starting a starting a story is mood or tone. For me it's like searching the woods for a path to make the journey easier.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I definitely have voice in mind when I'm writing, and since I see voice as a combination of all the others, I'd say that I have all the others in mind.

    I have multiple voices. I have a childlike voice that tends toward run-on sentences, the one that I used for most (though not all) of my 'once upon a time' stories.

    I have a dryer, more distant voice that I sometimes use for emotional writing to keep it very, very firmly away from "purple". (The one I used in Recycling.) It's also the voice that I generally use in forums; I'm mostly using that voice right now.

    I have a lofty, grand or sometimes purpple, rhapsodic voice that I try to very firmly squelch because it is not a good thing.

    And I have "my" voice. I realize that they all should be "my" voice, but when I sit with a dry, distant piece, or a lofty, grand piece, to "fix it", I have a feeling of, "Ok, let's clean out all this protection and pretension and actually communicate with the reader." And that's when I feel that I'm using "my" voice.

    Now, that cleanup isn't consciously about word choice or sentence structure. Instead, it's about risk--about communicating as me, taking off at least one layer of self-protection, and taking the risk that someone will see me as me, and reject what they see. But that self-exposure is done with word choice and sentence structure.
     
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  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wow - I get "simplicity" in this context, but nuance is another matter entirely. To me, you have to pay close attention to tone, voice, and style to control nuance - that's what nuance is.
     
  19. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I wish I could use an example of what I mean but I don't want to clip anyone's writing from even another site. But I just meant that new writers tend to over think everything. They want 'deep' meaning. They add lots of frills losing sight of simplicity and they use the wrong words losing sight of nuance. They're grabbing words because they like the look of them - they're big, and the sound of them - they sound important. But the context and shade screws up the scene.
     
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