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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Atmosphere: Tone

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Patricia Johnson
Posted on: Sun, 22 Apr 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 5 May 2002
Reposted on: Sun, 14 May 2006

Atmosphere: Tone

Atmosphere has several meanings to a fiction writer. The most common involve the setting. Here the writer brings out essentials of the scenes and overall story. These include place; time in history or the present; physical characteristics, such as weather and traits of the place identified through the five senses; characters and important props that are present; and last, the time of day. The author may also create and use other properties to develop the atmosphere.

Another aspect of atmosphere is tone. This ties in with some or all of the setting characteristics just mentioned, but it is different. It depends on the writer's ability to instill the narrative voice with a basic nature that defines the story. The atmospheric tone is described in adjectives such as controlling, wistful, forceful, spiritual, benign, humorous, ironic, evil, conforming. Add some of your own ideas to this list.

There are perhaps as many descriptors of atmospheric tone as there are good stories. Tone is apparent in great literature. Think of Victor Hugo's novels, the tone is often solemn. Hemmingway managed to set a lonely, futile tone for The Old Man and The Sea. In The Color Purple by Alice Walker, the tone is one of triumph and spirituality against all odds.

The tone may vary from scene to scene and from one character to another. But despite this ability of tone to take twists and turns and even appear contradictory, it remains underneath fundamentally the same throughout the story.


In 300 words or less, use atmospheric tone to influence a character to do something. Come up with your own idea, or use one of the following three examples.

1.) Have the main character arrive at a party. Have him/her find the
   somber atmosphere of the party so oppressive that he/she decides to

2.) Introduce a character that is unable to be spontaneous. Have the
   playful tone of the surroundings enable this character to become
   spontaneous and uninhibited.

3.) Use a very irresponsible character; throw him/her into a serious
   scene, where s/he is forced to be responsible.

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Sat, 28 Apr 2001

Thanks to everyone who participated in the tone exercise. Each of you did a great job. As I wrote my own exercise submission, I was surprised at the influence the setting gave to my ideas, how it not only served as a background, but enabled the story to develop. Using the setting and keeping it in mind during the writing process can enhance a story. I hope each of you had good experiences along this line, and it would be great to hear them in a discussion forum.

All the submissions were interesting and unique. Several involved young children, and the children managed to set the tone/atmosphere in the stories in a fresh way. Also, many people used the setting of a party as suggested in the exercise notes. Parties are an easy setting to bring out a variety of different tones by bringing a diverse group of people together.

I appreciated the thoughtful critiques everyone gave to this exercise. Several critters pointed out interesting observations that I had not noticed, which is one of the great strengths of having this group! Everyone learns together.

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: May 12, 2002

Hi Practice-w members,

The Atmosphere - Tone submissions produced atmospheres that were effective. Most of the stories carefully wove the atmosphere into the plot and in with the characters. Some of the submissions had the tone change and/or build as the story developed. Even when the atmosphere echoed the story, sometimes the story was incomplete - but the tone was always apparent.

Many of the submissions used weather conditions and nature for tone. These natural conditions reflected a variety of different tones. There was variety in the tones in the submissions. They developed the plot of the story in a holistic way.

Some critiques mentioned how the tone entered into every aspect of a submission. Others found little relation between the tone and the plot. Some critiques pointed out that the tone of the story allowed them to feel the story and be moved by it.

Tone can add much to a story. It can help develop the plot, add to its twists and turns. It can be a point of development for characters in stories as well. It adds meaning and feeling.

All the submissions used tone to express atmosphere. Thanks to everyone for such terrific submissions.

Keep writing!

Pat Johnson

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