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)

Australian Perspectives

Just released this week, the ABC Heywire podcast winners! Listen to 38 young Aussies share their perspective on what it's like to live in Australia.

Their stories are extremely diverse: from living with OCD, to arriving in Australia for the first time, to being a 'foster kid', to living in the isolated Outback. Endearing, honest and heartfelt, they give us a chance to see life in Australia through a lens that is different to our own.

You can choose from any of the 38 winners HERE. We've chosen Rafiki's story as an example. Sometimes we forget the enormous difference that a tiny gesture of kindness can make in a person's life.

ATAR Course Concepts: perspectives, voices, context, social and cultural understanding, empathy.


COMPARING TEXTS – choice phrases to use 😊

Did you know that V for Vendetta is also a superb text to compare with 1984 by George Orwell?

Comparing texts is a relatively easy task.  The key is to structure your discussion, argument and points clearly.   These sentence starters are a great way to keep your comparison on track and make sure you are discussing BOTH texts.  They are also great SIGNPOSTS to your marker that you are doing your very best to do as the questions has asked, which is to compare the texts.

  • Similarly, . . .
  • In the same way . . .
  • Likewise, . . .
  • In comparison . . .
  • Complementary to this . . .
  • Then again, . . .
  • However, . . .
  • This is in contrast to . . .
  • In contrast, . . .
  • And yet . . .
  • Nevertheless, . . .
  • Conversely, . . .
  • On the contrary, . . .
  • On the other hand, . . .
  • Notwithstanding . . .
  • Whereas . . .
  • In contrast to . . .
  • That aside, . . .
  • While this is the case, (author/director) disputes . . .
  • Despite this, . . .

Finally, feel free to use a number of smaller paragraphs.  Generally, most students’ essays in ATAR English consist of an intro, 3-4 body paragraphs and a conclusion.

But this isn’t a hard and fast rule.  If you need to use more paragraphs because it helps you set your argument out more clearly, then go for it! 🙂



We’ve put up quite a few posts looking at VOICES IN TEXTS. Now we want to look at the other aspect of the VOICE course concept as identified in the SCSA glossary:  NARRATIVE AND AUTHORIAL VOICE.

The NARRATIVE voice is the voice of the NARRATOR and/or CHARACTER in a text.  It may be written from a 1ST PERSON, 2nd PERSON or 3RD PERSON point of view.

AUTHORIAL voice refers to the voice of the author and is a part of that author's writing style.

In the COMPREHENDING SECTION of your exam, you could be asked to identify and/or discuss the VOICE in an unseen text.  Students find this quite tricky, but there are KEY THINGS to look for:

  • 1st, 2nd or 3rd person POV  (We did a post on the significance of this earlier - it’s worth reading if you missed it! 😊)
  • Male / female
  • Approximate age
  • Accent / dialect (and therefore perhaps ethnicity)
  • Attitudes or values identifiable from dialogue, actions and/or thoughts
  • Tone

We’ve included some excerpts here with brief notes on each. Hopefully you can see how the tips above can help you identify the VOICE in an unseen text. 😊


First person POV is used in the excerpt above so a subjective and personal VOICE.  The narrator talks about his brother being buried and worries about ‘how he would breathe’ and if he should ‘put some fruit in the grave’ in case he gets hungry.

The VOICE is obviously that of a young child since they don’t seem to understand death.  We could guess between the ages of 5-10.   Gender is not obvious and there is no detectable accent or dialect.

The NARRATIVE VOICE conveys a sense of loneliness (attitude).  ‘Nobody really talked’ (repetition) and the narrator tells us the teachers and kids at school stayed away.  We could also say the VOICE is one of innocence (attitude).  We’ve already identified that the narrator doesn’t understand about death, but the final sentence - ‘finding him in a drain without his clothes on was worse’ - also conveys this.  This small detail has a lot more meaning for us as readers than it does for the child narrator (innocent).  We know the narrator’s brother has likely been sexually abused and murdered.


We chose this example (Text 1) to show you how important the CONTEXTUAL INFORMATION provided by the examiners can be! 😊  Students were asked to identify the VOICE in the excerpt and explain how it POSITIONED them to view Berlin.

1st person POV so again the VOICE is very subjective (bias) and personal.  The AUTHORIAL VOICE is a female Australian voice conveying her experiences of travelling in Berlin, Germany.   All of this is given in the CONTEXTUAL INFORMATION provided.

We can expand on this by making some inferences.  An Australian travelling in Germany means the VOICE is that of a foreigner or outsider.  Additionally, the VOICE is unwell or ill.  Anna Funder admits in the first sentence that she is hungover, so not in the best state of mind to be objectively making observations about a foreign city.  Her hangover may adversely affect her attitudes towards, and opinions of, Berlin and consequently POSITION READERS to view it in a negative light also.

EXCERPT FROM ‘TROUBLE AFOOT’ BY DANNY KATZ (article, article from an old WACE exam)

Katz uses the 1st person POV – subjective/bias, influenced by personal values, attitudes and beliefs.  The VOICE is that of a 49yr old male and is COLLOQUIAL (i.e. relaxed, conversational) shown through the use of words such as ‘kid, fella, gramps, little bugger’.  Traditional ATTITUDES regarding manners and respect are conveyed by the VOICE who expects the boy to move for him because he is older, dressed snazzy and carrying an expensive cake.

The writer also imagines what the kid is thinking, and in doing so creates a disrespectful, cheeky VOICE for the young boy.

Finally, the VOICE of the article is sarcastic (tone) and classist (attitude)  when it says ‘carrying a cheap novelty footy that was probably stitched together by Bangladeshi orphans.’  The VOICE is also humorous (tone) – ‘disrespect was just oozing out of him, mostly from his little snout.’

IS THIS ARTICLE BY KATZ NARRATIVE OR AUTHORIAL VOICE?   This is a tricky question to answer because it could be BOTH! Danny Katz may be recalling an experience he has had, in this case, the VOICE would be AUTHORIAL. OR, he might have created this lemon tart carrying 49yr old to explore the generation gap that exists in society.  In this case, the VOICE would be NARRATIVE.

At the end of the day, whatever excerpt you are given in your examination/assessment, the examiner will be looking to see if you can identify and discuss the VOICE.  It’s also likely they will call it narrative voice, authorial voice or simply voice in the question.  So don’t worry too much about this 😊


We chose the example above because it uses the 2nd person POV which is unusual.  It could be that the narrator wants to make us part of the story, to put us into the shoes of the character as a way of better understanding the issues.  In this case, the ‘you’ (which is us, the reader) can feel under attack from the VOICE, as if we should have known better.

Another possibility is that they used 2nd person POV because the narrator is older and talking to her younger self.  Either interpretation can be correct, just be sure to support your interpretation with evidence from the text (i.e. a quote). 😊

NOW, let’s identify the VOICE.  The gender and age are not clear.  But the TONE is clear.  The VOICE seems to be critical of Americans and America itself.  The narrator talks about the ‘big hot dog with yellow mustard that nauseated you.’  An iconic symbol of American culture, the hot dog looks great but left you feeling sick on eating it.  This perhaps represents that America is not as good as it may seem, particularly for migrants.

The VOICE is also satirical (tone).  The narrator mocks America saying ‘they were desperately trying to look diverse.  They included a photo of him in every brochure, even those that had nothing to do with his unit.’  The narrator is poking fun at America’s desire to look multicultural, when in fact it is not, so the VOICE is sarcastic.