Romancing The Tone

The tone of your film script sets the mood

I’ve previously discussed the tone of your screenplay, but how can it be defined?

Tone is a stylistic device and can loosely be defined as the ATTITUDE, NUANCE and PERSONALITY of the film script. It’s what hooks your audience and keeps them watching. Is your tone tongue in cheek, serious, earnest, worthy, menacing, explosive, quirky, light or playful?

Tone refers to the adjectives that generate the innate energy of the movie script

Tone can be influenced by choice of dialogue. Is the language flowery, colloquial, formal, slang, scientific or ghetto?

Tone can be shaped by speech patterns, syntax and grammar. Think soundbytes. Compare the disjointed language in “Precious” to the proper English in “Atonement” to the vulgar dialogue of “Mean Streets”.

What is the imagery involved in your script? Where is it set? Is it the countryside, suburbia or slick city? Or a dungeon? Is it bright or dark and gritty? These factors define your tone.

The tone of your screenwriting influences how your audience feels

Although tone is used to determine how your AUDIENCE feels about a script, it is different to the MOOD of a script which relates to a more prolonged emotional state such as happiness or sadness. Tone is more subtle and can change more easily. There can be flourishes of comedy in a drama or vice versa.

Tone is intrinsically linked to genre and more specifically to your audience. The tone of a high school comedy such as “American Pie” will be raunchier and more frivolous to that of a broad comedy such as “Meet The Parents” which tends to be less offensive.

Consider the shots and pacing moulding your tone. Are there hand-hand, rapidly edited shots of “The Hurt Locker”, or the lingering, distance shots of “The Last Song”.

Production designers put significant thought into the colour palettes of their films. Are they steely grey like “Collateral”, black and murky like “Paranormal Activity”, or bright primary colours like “The Back Up Plan”?

As a simple exercise, consider the decor of the following restaurants: Taco Bell, Denny’s and The Ivy? Let the restaurants be your genre and the decor the mood.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Janice says:


    I found your comments above VERY helpful. I am writing a musical stage play and required clarity on TONE. Your’s was the only site i could find after hours of searching which helped.

    Many thanks!!!

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      Glad to help!


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