Mood, Tone, and Style: Incorporating your Inspiration and Enthusiasm in the First Draft

Let's Make Revisions Fun

Since September's theme is decisions to make before starting the first draft, I thought, as the first post, I would begin with something a tad more unconventional. We've all heard writers complain about revisions--they're boring, they're difficult. And a lot of tips about outlining and such before writing the first draft are awesome suggestions that you should certainly use, I can't but help notice one thing--they're all about minimizing the pain of revisions, not actually making them fun.

This, in no way, means revisions won't be work. Every aspect of writing is work. But by reflecting on a few key ideas on your inspiration for your story before you start, it will be easier to

  • Make your mental picture come to life in your writing
  • Make your finished draft seem more like you wrote it when you revisit it
  • Retain the spark that made you write it in the first place

Key Terms

Our ultimate goal is to make sure your first draft captures that exact image and feel for your story that exists in your head. Ours tools will be three writing terms that reside more in the nitty gritty of writing, rather than characters, plot, and world-building, but will essentially help improve all of them.

Let's think of your story as a photograph.

Mood: The Filter

Mood is the underlying sense of unease, cheerfulness, horror, etc. that is the product of word choice and descriptions. It is the filter of a photograph--sepia, monotone, black & white, etc. Think of "mood lighting."

Tone: The Spotlight

Tone is the way you as an author treat a certain subject in your story (grief, love, etc.). Think of it as the choice of spotlight--both the what you want your audience to focus on and the how, as in the color of the light, the size, and the level of brightness.

Style: Textures, Upside-Down, Whatever Else You Want to Do To Your Photo

Style is the way that you as the author use language, sentence structure, or anything to tell your story. Think of how Andy Warhol's signature four versions of the same photo creating a square. Or all the different styles of painting--mosaic, cubism, oil painting, etc.

The Reflection

Picture your story idea. How do you want it to feel to the reader? Beyond the characters, the plot, the world, how do you want your language to bring your story to life? 

Go through each of our terms individually, both considering their role in the entire story and in specific scenes. Maybe think of how some of your favorite authors treated these same ideas?

Now that you have an idea of the mood, tone, and style you want, let's examine how you can manipulate them to match that idea.


  • Pick a color scheme for your book, particularly your setting (Don't only use those colors, but consider having them pop up several times throughout).
  • Put pressure on the verbs in your descriptions - search for ones that elicit an emotional response, even at the risk of sounding gross (You should totally have gross sentences if you want to unnerve the reader).
  • When describing the surroundings, focus on only the weird and out of place. Avoid general summaries of the setting and opt for details.
  • Use the weather.
  • Choose names of characters and places that give a sense of who/what they are
  • When using similes/metaphors, use comparisons that relate to the mood you'd like (ex. if you want happy go for butterflies, creepy go for worms).


  • Choose descriptions and images that match the emotion of your scene.
  • Decide whether or what the language to sound more casual or formal, and when
  • Consider whether the pacing of your scene helps/hinders the tone
  • Check the rhythm of your sentences to see if they match the tone
  • Use your characters' reactions and words to express the tone (ironic, blasé, angry)
  • Consider slang, dialect, and cursing


  • How do you want the page to look? Big paragraphs? Or lots of broken ones that move fast?
  • Consider giving sentences their own paragraph for emphasis.
  • How deep into the narrator's head is your point of view? How can you use style to achieve that?
  • What are some literary techniques you'd like to use? (metaphors, personification, hyperbole)
  • How can you incorporate all five senses?
  • Avoid clichés
  • Reread the writers whose styles have wowed you and determine how they did it


Hopefully these terms gave your some things to think about before you begin writing. Sure, as you cut and add chapters, characters, etc, you will lose a lot of your first draft, but if you begin with these and maintain them, you won't lose the spark that urged you to write your story in the first place.


  1. I also like when you can start with something like an archetype or a pattern, like the weather. You can build on something that has a lot of examples, but as you move beyond the first draft you actually end up with something new and completely different, and I think that's awesome.

  2. This was pretty awesome. I'm coming back to this when I begin micro-editing.


  3. I see you've been taking a leaf from Faulkner's book, so to speak. Great ideas. I hadn't even considered the appearance of the pages before...
    I've also been noticing that each castle that I write has a different feel... they're not just all generic castles. I wasn't even doing this deliberately. Hmmm.