Comprehending, Responding


Tone describes the way a voice is delivered.  The voice can be authorial or narrative (see earlier blog post).  It can also be the voice of a character or even an actor who is playing a character.

Four dimensions of tone of voice


In written texts, tone is created by using particular words and language features.  We need to focus on what is said.

You might be trying to identify the tone of the writer of a text (i.e. the authorial voice) such as in open letters, essays, articles, diary entries, speeches or interviews.

E.G.1  Look at the language choices (specifically adjectives, verbs and direct address) in some of Greta Thunberg’s speech at the Climate Action Summit in 2019:

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty wordsHow dare you pretend that this can be solved with just 'business as usual'…You are failing us.  But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”

She sounds fairly serious!  A bit pissed off, right?  Of course you’d choose a better term to describe the tone in your exam response!

E.G.2  Look at this excerpt from Ross Bilton’s article in 'The Weekend Australian' about mountain-biking with his son:

“After a few clumsy mistakes we begin to find our feet…whizzing down rolling straights, whooping with delight…Following my lad…down the trails, watching him swoop fast round those steep berms, fearless and joyful, having the time of his life, with his old man right behind him.”

The colloquial language (my lad, old man) creates an informal tone while the onomatopoeia (whizzing, whooping, swoop) also conveys an enthusiastic and excited tone.

You might be trying to identify the tone of voice of the main character in a text.  This is often conveyed through the narrative voice of novels and short stories, usually from the first-person point of view.

E.G.3  Look at this excerpt from 'The Handmaid’s Tale' by Margaret Atwood.  Offred has been banned from reading in Gilead (a patriarchal, oppressive, totalitarian society).  During her visits to the Commander’s study, he gives her contraband literature to read:

“I read quickly, voraciously, almost skimming, trying to get as much into my head as possible before the next long starvation.  If it were eating it would be the gluttony of the famished, if it was sex it would be a swift furtive stand up in an alley somewhere.”

The verbs, adjectives and metaphor (starvation) create a tone of desperate urgency.  This helps convey to us how liberating reading is for Offred in this new oppressive society – to read is to breathe.

We can also identify the tone of other characters too, such as Aunt Lydia from 'The Handmaid's Tale':

“To be seen to be seen is to be – her voice trembled penetrated.  What you must be, girls, is impenetrable.”  (quote from Offred, i.e. reported speech)

Atwood uses a number of techniques to convey Aunt Lydia’s tone.  First, the repetition of the word ‘seen’ and the font change to italics creates emphasis and therefore we can argue conveys a serious tone.  The use of the dash (not hyphen!) indicates Aunt Lydia pausing or hesitating as she speaks.  This gives the impression the content of her speech is difficult to express, which further supports our argument that her tone is serious.  Her word choice of ‘must’ expresses obligation and is a word used to give orders, thereby creating an instructional and serious tone.  And finally, she refers to the grown women she is speaking to as ‘girls’ which creates a tone of superiority and importance.  From her tone we could predict that she is likely in a position of leadership or authority.  WOW!  That’s, like, a full paragraph response about just one little sentence!


Tone is not just created by what is said but also how it is said.  We can interpret the tone by analysing the language, but also the verbal techniques used by the actor/speaker:  pause, volume, pace, enunciation, accent, pitch etc.

In The Dark Knight, Christian Bale creates a deep, guttural, raspy tone for Batman’s voice.  His speech patterns are staggered and at times he breathes heavily in between growls.  He sounds intense when he delivers his lines, right?  This helps to create a serious and menacing tone to his voice, which helps Bale to create his violent, vigilante Batman identity.

Lastly, this website has a terrific list of ‘tone’ words if you need it:

Comprehending, Responding, Uncategorized

Identifying the MOOD

The mood is a feeling or atmosphere created in a novel, poem, short story, speech, film, music video, podcast, photograph, album cover etc.

We can talk about the OVERALL mood of a text.  For example, George Orwell creates a mood of hopelessness in his novel 'Animal Farm' because, despite all the animal’s best efforts, the rebellion fails and they end up worse off than when they started.

Or we can talk about the mood created in a particular scene or moment.  For example, in the film 'Rabbit Proof Fence', Phillip Noyce creates a feeling of chaos and despair in the scene when the Aboriginal girls (Molly, Gracie and Daisy) are forcibly removed from their mothers by Constable Riggs.

In ATAR English, when it comes to talking about mood you need to be able to:

  1. Identify what the mood of a text is.  Don’t say ‘negative’ or ‘positive’.  Be more specific.  There's a good list here if you need it:
  2. Explain how the mood is created. I.E. what techniques or conventions are being used?


  • Adjectives, verbs and adverbs used – i.e. DESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE
  • Similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia, hyperbole – i.e. FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE
  • Imagery – especially details related to the landscape, weather, lighting or setting.
  • Characterisation – pay attention to the actions, dialogue, facial expressions that might suggest the mood.

Can you identify the mood in each excerpt below?  Pick a technique from the list above and try to explain how the writer uses it to create the mood. Feel free to post your answers in the comments!

Extract from ‘Island Home’ (2015) by Tim WintonExtract from ‘Listen to the End’ (1981) by Tony Hunter
Black sky down around our ears, my son and I climb the stile in the frigid, buffeting wind.  Hail slants in, pinging and peppering us…I expect my boy to be cowed by the stinging ice and the suddenly savage afternoon…A flurry of wind sent the brown leaves tumbling end over end ahead of her along the dark, glistening pavement.  Thin, cold drizzle, driven by the wind wrapped a clammy embrace round her hurrying figure and swirls of mist danced beckoningly around the street lamps, transmuting their normally friendly beacons into baleful yellow eyes.  The tall Victorian houses frowned down disapprovingly…


  • Cinematography – low, high or canted angles, framing, composition, use of space, camera shots etc.
  • Lighting – shadows, colours, filters
  • Music, sound effects, lyrics
  • Symbols
  • Weather
  • Mise-en-scene – talk specifically about at least two of the following: composition, sets, props, actors, costumes and lighting.  If it’s easier, just talk about props or the walls, for example.  A lot of students try to talk about mise-en-scene in examinations but it’s really obvious if you don’t properly understand it 😊.

Can you identify the mood in each image below?  Pick a technique from the list above and explain how the writer uses it to create the mood? Again, feel free to post your answer in the comments!

Salvation Army Canada poster from their 2010 National Red Shield Campaign.
Photograph by Andrew McConnell, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (2010)
Comprehending, Responding


'HOW' is a pesky word that has caused the downfall of even the brightest English students 😧 It’s a word examiners and teachers use to encourage students to offer ANALYSIS.

This is where examiners and teachers provide a parameter for the analysis.
E.G. “Explain HOW THE USE OF SETTING shapes the construction of one of the characters in this passage.”
You are being asked specifically to analyse the setting and how it influences character construction. You've been given a parameter for the HOW (analysis).
Other examples:
“Explain HOW THE PATTERNS OF LANGUAGE OR STRUCTURE are used to represent a complex idea.”
“Explain HOW A TEXT USES VOICE to encourage you to empathise with others.”
This is where YOU are left to choose the type of analysis you will offer. And this is where the downfall occurs 😧
Because a parameter has not been provided, some students fail to realise they are still expected to discuss the important course concepts they’ve been sweating over for the last two years.
E.G. “Explain HOW at least one text you have studied appeals to a particular audience.”
Can you see there is a lack of direction regarding the HOW?  BUT!  You are still expected to offer analysis.
So where do you go from here?
We suggest picking from ANY of the topics below, all of which allow you to offer analysis and successfully address the HOW:
🧐 Consider generic conventions (structure, point of view, setting, characterisation, ideas or themes or issues, stylistic features).
🧐 Consider language features – WRITTEN (metaphor, simile, personification inclusive pronouns, statistics, rhetorical questions etc) or VISUAL (camera angles, lighting, juxtaposition, mise en scene, symbols etc)
🧐 Consider values and/or attitudes in the text.
🧐 Consider context (production and reception).
Think about it.  A film or novel or poem may appeal to a particular audience because of setting.  Because of the values that are reinforced, or challenged.  Because of the time period in which it was produced, or received.  Because of the characterisation…..and so on.
There are LOADS of things you could potentially discuss.  The key is not to ignore the HOW.
Don't make the mistake of thinking this sort of question is easy or straightforward.  You still need to offer analysis and show you are thinking about the way the text has been CRAFTED. 😊
Comprehending, Responding

EXPLAIN – how do I do this?

This instructional verb is used a LOT in the ATAR English examination papers.  For example:

  • EXPLAIN how your response to this image has been affected by the arrangement of visual elements. (2017)
  • EXPLAIN how the use of setting shapes the construction of one of the characters in this passage. (2016)

EXPLAIN means to give reasons for, to relate cause and effect, to make the relationships between things evident.  You have to make the marker understand something by giving reasons for both ‘how’ and ‘why’ things are as they are.

Here are some useful phrases you can use 😊

  • To understand the …… it is useful to think of….
  • … works by …
  • Because… then …
  • When… then …
  • … is/are caused by …
  • Whereas…
  • In the same way …
  • … results from …
  • The effect of….
  • The main reason for …
  • Taking into account …, it is clear that …
  • … interacts with …
  • … affects …
  • … causes …
  • … influences …
  • …predicts …
  • … leads to …
  • … informs …
  • … emphasises …
  • … demonstrates …
  • … impacts on …
  • … supports …


Your essays should predominantly be written in the present tense – is, shows, explores ideas about, purpose is to….

However, QUOTATIONS don’t always fit smoothly in our essays when a novel or article is written in the PAST tense.

That’s when these little guys [  ] come in really handy.  They tell a marker that you have CHANGED or ADDED something in the quotation.


In the opening of his dystopian novel, Orwell states that “it [is] a bright cold day in April, and the clocks [are] striking thirteen” as a way of signposting that all is not normal in this futuristic London.

The actual quote is “It was a bright cold day….the clocks were striking…”

My marker can see  [  ]  that for the purposes of grammatical correctness, I have amended the tense.

This tells them - I know how to use verb tense and punctuation properly.  Reward me!  😊


Orwell shows how serious the surveillance in Airstrip One is when he says “they [thought police] watched everybody all the time”.

It may not be clear to a marker who “they” are – so I provide the context for my marker using the square brackets.  I need my marker to be able to follow my argument

AND THAT’S IT.  TOO EASY!  Be careful though – you can’t use [    ]  to change the writer’s meaning to suit yourself.  And don’t use these ones (  )  -  that would be wrong. 😊