Bedford/St. Martin's virtuaLit Interactive Fiction Tutorial Notebook VIEW SEND
Fiction in Depth Approaches and Contexts
Select a StoryElements of FictionCultural ContextsCritical Approaches
Plot
Character
Setting
Point of View
Style, Tone, and Language
Theme
Symbolism, Allegory, and Image



DEFINITION OF STYLE, TONE, AND LANGUAGE

Style in fiction refers to the language conventions used to construct the story. A fiction writer can manipulate diction, sentence structure, phrasing, dialogue, and other aspects of language to create style. Thus a story's style could be described as richly detailed, flowing, and barely controlled, as in the case of Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl," or sparing and minimalist, as in the early work of Raymond Carver, to reflect the simple sentence structures and low range of vocabulary. Predominant styles change through time; therefore the time period in which fiction was written often influences its style. For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," written in the nineteenth century, uses diction and sentence structure that might seem somewhat crisp and formal to contemporary readers: "With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose."

The communicative effect created by the author's style can be referred to as the story's voice. To identify a story's voice, ask yourself, "What kind of person does the narrator sound like?" A story's voice may be serious and straightforward, rambunctiously comic, or dramatically tense. In "Girl," the voice of the mother, as narrated to us in the daughter's first-person point of view, is harsh and judgmental, exposing an urgent and weathered concern for the daughter's development as she becomes a woman.

A story's style and voice contribute to its tone. Tone refers to the attitude that the story creates toward its subject matter. For example, a story may convey an earnest and sincere tone toward its characters and events, signaling to the reader that the material is to be taken in a serious, dramatic way. On the other hand, an attitude of humor or sarcasm may be created through subtle language and content manipulation. In the last line of Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," for example, an ironic spin emerges when we learn that "the doctors said she died of heart disease, of joy that kills."

diction: The author's choice of words


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