Tone, Mood, & Style—The Feel of Fiction
April 19, 2013 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified April 20, 2013
Each piece of fiction, each section of text, has a particular feel. The feel of a story or scene is primarily achieved through three elements—tone, mood, and style. And while you may hear the words used almost interchangeably, they are different. They are achieved differently and they create different effects.
We’ll take a look at all three.
Tone in fiction is the attitude of the narrator or viewpoint character toward story events and other characters. In a story with first-person POV, tone can also be the narrator’s attitude toward the reader.
In non-fiction, tone is the writer’s attitude toward subject matter and reader. So the writer might come across as a know-it-all or a blowhard or as humble or solicitous.
We’re all familiar with a mother’s words to her mouthy son—Don’t you take that tone with me, young man.
What does the mother mean by tone here? She’s talking about his sassy or smart-alecky attitude. The child’s words and actions and facial expressions convey an attitude his mother doesn’t approve of.
Examples of tone you might find in fiction are strident, uncaring, sassy, bossy, unconcerned, or flip. Remember that these refer to the narrator’s (viewpoint character’s) attitude.
A scene’s or story’s tone, expressed through the narrator’s attitude, could as easily be one of fearlessness or fearfulness, disbelief or detachment, or maybe unconcern or snarkiness or arrogance. Whatever attitude the narrator can take on, the scene or story can take on.
Tone is achieved through word choice (diction), sentence construction and word order (syntax), and by what the viewpoint character focuses on. Tone is created or altered by the way the viewpoint character/narrator treats the story problem and other characters, and by the way he responds to the events surrounding him. Tone can be manipulated by changing what the narrator focuses on and through his changing reactions to what is going on in the story as well as by changing the words used for his thoughts, action, and dialogue.
The tone of a scene can also be affected by manipulation of the sense elements. So what the viewpoint character smells and how those odors affect him influence tone. The menace of unrelenting footsteps on wooden stairs in the middle of the night or the hurried thud of footsteps down a dark alley would contribute to a tone different from the one created by the sounds of a toddler running down the hall to meet his daddy at the door. The viewpoint character’s perception of and reaction to sights, sounds, odors, touch, and taste add to tone.
What’s absent from a story can affect tone almost as strongly as what is present. Exclude the narrator’s attitude toward someone he loves if you want to portray him as distant and unfeeling; add in this attitude when it’s time to reveal this facet of his personality. When you give him a scene with his love interest, it can have a tone far different from those in other scenes featuring the same character.
He might notice his lover’s soft skin or the colors she uses or her smile, things he doesn’t notice or comment on in other scenes. Keeping a tender attitude far from him in scenes when he’s away from his lover will reveal much of who he is and perhaps how much he relies on her to humanize him.
Reactions and Demeanor
How does the narrator or viewpoint character come across? How does he respond to story events and revelations?
Is he desperate, upbeat, dismissive? Is he clueless or callous or indifferent?
To create a tone that works, word choices have to match the character and the moment. So if a character is desperate, his actions, thoughts, and words should reflect that desperation. What he thinks about should reveal his desperation. Tone should be consistent until something happens to change the narrator’s perceptions and responses.
If a scene seems off in a way that you can’t pinpoint or fix through changes in plot or character or dialogue, if it simply feels wrong or off, check to see if you’ve been consistent with tone (with mood as well). If you’ve inadvertently set up opposing tones within a scene, it will feel not quite right, maybe as if it’s out of focus or, more likely, as if a sheet of glass had shattered and the pieces were off kilter just a hair.
Note: If an event occurs that affects the viewpoint character, he should have a response and respond according to his character. When a viewpoint character doesn’t respond, it’s as if the event did not take place. But when the character reacts, his response and his attitude not only show what he’s feeling and identify what’s important to him, but also affect the reader’s response and feelings.
Purposes of Tone
Use tone, the viewpoint character’s attitude, in every scene to deepen the reader’s connections to the events of that scene and to the character.
Reveal character personality and motivation through tone; a person’s response, including the level and duration of the response, tells a lot about that person. The attitude a person takes on is one of his major responses to events and stimuli. Use it to reveal your characters.
A scene that’s light on tone markers or that has a mixed tone will either hold readers at a distance or have them confused, neither of which is ideal when you want to draw a reader deep into story.
Tone can change over the course of a story, as the viewpoint character grows or changes, but every scene should have a tone, a feel, that’s generated by the attitude of the viewpoint character, and that could hold fairly steady for much of the story. That is, until events start shaking up the character.
A story as a whole will also have a tone, a particular feel.
Use tone to differentiate scenes between viewpoint characters. So while Irving’s attitude is whiney, Pete’s can be overbearing. Use word choices and the unique events and story elements that each character focuses on to play up the different tones.
A long list of tones (attitude), but by no means an exhaustive one—
Mood is what the reader feels while reading a scene or story. It’s not the reader’s emotions, but the atmosphere (the vibe) of a scene or story. It’s what the reader reads or feels or notices. Not all readers would necessarily report the same mood from a scene, although the writer does hope to achieve a particular feel common to every reader.
Mood can be expressed in terms such as dark, light, rushed, suspenseful, heavy, lighthearted, chaotic, and laid-back.
The mood of each scene can differ from that of the scene before, but you will want some consistency. Yet, as the story approaches the climax, the intensity levels should change. Readers should feel that story events are coming to a head. While there should be several points in your story at which the mood darkens or grows more menacing or more comical, readers should feel a bigger change as the story heads to its conclusion. (This feel of events rushing toward a conclusion can also be directed by pace, by a reduced emphasis on general setting details, by to-the-point dialogue, and several other factors. Mood is just one element that pulls the reader toward the story’s end.)
I typically suggest that writers examine their manuscripts around the two-thirds mark. If the feel of the story doesn’t change somewhere near this point, do some rewriting. You can make gradual changes to mood or you could change the level in large steps, but do make changes, both to indicate that the high point is indeed approaching and so readers can feel the shift.
Keep in mind that mood has to change for a reason and that something must happen even to provoke an intensity change. Something must be different to make sense of any mood change, whether the change is from mood to mood or level to level.
This change can be a physical event or a character’s sudden recognition of the meaning of an earlier event or another character’s remark.
If you’ve got several story threads or subplots featuring different viewpoint characters, the mood could switch each time you move from one subplot to the other.
While using strongly different moods is a marvelous way to differentiate story threads and the scenes of different viewpoint characters, do be aware that readers have to adjust each time you change. The adjustment might be smooth or jarring, and either kind of change could work for the story, but don’t forget that it may be difficult for readers to adapt to a new mood at the turn of a page. If they’re caught up in your fiction (and manipulating mood is a great way to keep them involved), they may not want to leave the dark scenes featuring your antagonist for a relatively lighter scene featuring the main character’s sidekick. Use what you know of human nature and your own feelings toward such changes to decide how and when to introduce scenes of different moods.
While both mood and tone can change over the course of story, tone is the more consistent element. Since it’s the attitude of the narrator, tone won’t change as often as mood can.
A list of moods (atmosphere)—
Style is the third element used for creating or changing the feel of a story or scene, though it’s a bit different from tone and mood because it’s used to affect and create the other two elements.
Style as we’re defining it here is the way the writer uses words to create not only the events of story, but their feel as well. A writer’s style is evident in his use of diction—word choices—and syntax—word order and sentence construction. A style is the writer’s method to create mood and tone, the feel of fiction. Style is also dependent on subject matter, what a write might explore and what he’d never write about. For example, one writer might never feature a pedophile in a story, another might write one as a heinous monster, and yet another might write one as a tortured soul.
One writer might feature children in his works, another cowboys, and another serial killers or detectives or archaeologists. Some writers write only about paranormal beings while others write only of humans.
One writer might focus on contemporary events while others might think only of imagined scenarios. Some writers might look to the past and others to the future.
Genre too can play a part in style. Genre can affect word choice, subject matter, setting requirements and taboos, and the style of a story’s ending (happily ever after or tear-fest or death of a major character).
Note: Non-fiction writers have their own styles as well. And it may be easier to identify a writer’s style in a magazine article or other piece of writing than it is in fiction. For example, if the writer of a magazine or blog article is patronizing, readers notice right away.
Every writer’s style is peculiar to him, yet he can alter that style to create the effects needed for a scene or any other piece of writing.
If he needs a scholarly style, he’ll choose words and sentence rhythms to create such a style. If he wants to sound like an aw-shucks country boy, he’ll choose words to convey that feel.
The writer can use jargon, words readers are comfortable with, to help those readers feel at home with his approach or conclusions, even if he writes about a topic the readers disagree with. Or the writer might use uncommon words to make readers feel ignorant or out of place or to make himself (and what he writes) seem more valuable.
A writer might adopt a formal style, with few contractions, though I don’t recommend this for fiction. People of all eras and ages have used contractions, so it wouldn’t be unusual for almost any character to use them. And their use is simply easier on the reader, allowing him to move through the text without unnecessary pauses. (There are exceptions, of course.)
In one story, a writer might use a lot of verbals (verbs used as something other than a verb), including gerunds, participles, and infinitives. She might use a lot of absolute phrases or use none. She might use short sentences, long sentences, one-word paragraphs or five-page paragraphs. Whatever choices she makes that deal with word choice and how words are arranged in phrases, sentences, and paragraphs is the writer’s style.
If she never uses adverbs or adjectives, that’s a style choice. If she uses three or four every sentence, that’s also a style choice. (One I try to discourage in every situation unless a character would use them to excess or as a way to create a deliberately bad sentence.)
Other style choices—
Using the definite article the for every noun or never using it
Writing long, involved complex sentences (or not)
Including euphemisms in place of bold cuss words
Having a character cussing every other line or word
Using irony or sarcasm or a question and answer format
Using common workhorse words in place of elegant words, or doing the opposite
Accenting repetition in words or phrases or patterns
Favoring simile or metaphor
Using alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme, assonance and other typically poetic techniques
Choosing lush descriptions over sparse ones or vice versa
Accenting or highlighting one fiction element (dialogue, action, description, and so forth) over another
Going heavy (or light) on foreshadowing or flashbacks or back story
Each of these style decisions has an impact on both tone and mood, and using different combinations of them can create stories that feel wildly different from one another.
This is why a dozen writers could begin with the same premise and write unique stories that sound nothing alike—that feel nothing alike.
Style, tone, and mood combine to make your stories your own, something no one else could create. And if you changed the tone or mood of multiple scenes or of a story as a whole, you’d create a new story quite unlike the original.
This is one reason paying attention to mood and tone are important—including the wrong elements, wrong in terms of what you’re trying to achieve, means the story won’t turn out the way you intend it to. Yes, you can make changes (or you might like what you ended up with better than what you’d wanted in the first place and decide to keep it), but if you plan ahead, learn a bit about how to establish and manipulate tone and mood, you wouldn’t have to try to figure out where the story went off-track after the fact.
A list of styles—
Note: Some of the words that reflect style could also reflect tone; some mood words could describe a writer’s style. Whatever tone, mood, and style you decide on for your stories, realize that those elements contribute to the story’s feel.
Recognize that even if you don’t purposely create tone and mood, they are still created for your stories and scenes. They may be muddled and the cause of weak responses to your fiction, but they’re there, in the story. Make a point to purposely work tone and mood to the story’s advantage by your style choices. And once you’re ready to rewrite and edit, check each scene for mood and tone. Make sure you’re not sending mixed signals about either.
Bring all the elements together to work for your stories.
Write captivating, cohesive fiction.
The very quick list—
Tone—viewpoint character’s attitude
Mood—atmosphere felt by the reader
Style—word choices and word arrangements made by the writer
Tags: grammar, word choice, writing styles Posted in: Craft & Style, Definitions
For other uses, see Essay (disambiguation).
For a description of essays as used by Wikipedia editors, see Wikipedia:Essays.
"Essai" redirects here. For other uses, see Essai (disambiguation).
An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.
Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g., Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples. In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.
The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other mediums beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.
An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse". It is difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject. He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:
- The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole "write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description".
- The objective, the factual, and the concrete particular: The essayists that write from this pole "do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists of setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data".
- The abstract-universal: In this pole "we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions", who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience.
Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "...make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist."
The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing. Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580. For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones. Francis Bacon's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays. Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in English in 1609, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). In France, Michel de Montaigne's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. In Italy, Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il Cortigiano. In the 17th century, the JesuitBaltasar Gracián wrote about the theme of wisdom. During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public. The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T.S. Eliot). Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.
Main article: Zuihitsu
As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre. Notable examples include The Pillow Book (c. 1000), by court lady Sei Shōnagon, and Tsurezuregusa (1330), by particularly renowned Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō. Kenkō described his short writings similarly to Montaigne, referring to them as "nonsensical thoughts" written in "idle hours". Another noteworthy difference from Europe is that women have traditionally written in Japan, though the more formal, Chinese-influenced writings of male writers were more prized at the time.
Forms and styles
This section describes the different forms and styles of essay writing. These forms and styles are used by an array of authors, including university students and professional essayists.
Cause and effect
The defining features of a "cause and effect" essay are causal chains that connect from a cause to an effect, careful language, and chronological or emphatic order. A writer using this rhetorical method must consider the subject, determine the purpose, consider the audience, think critically about different causes or consequences, consider a thesis statement, arrange the parts, consider the language, and decide on a conclusion.
Classification and division
Classification is the categorization of objects into a larger whole while division is the breaking of a larger whole into smaller parts.
Compare and contrast
Compare and contrast essays are characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, and analogies. It is grouped by the object (chunking) or by point (sequential). The comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects. When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Compare and contrast is arranged emphatically.
Descriptive writing is characterized by sensory details, which appeal to the physical senses, and details that appeal to a reader's emotional, physical, or intellectual sensibilities. Determining the purpose, considering the audience, creating a dominant impression, using descriptive language, and organizing the description are the rhetorical choices to consider when using a description. A description is usually arranged spatially but can also be chronological or emphatic. The focus of a description is the scene. Description uses tools such as denotative language, connotative language, figurative language, metaphor, and simile to arrive at a dominant impression. One university essay guide states that "descriptive writing says what happened or what another author has discussed; it provides an account of the topic".Lyric essays are an important form of descriptive essays.
In the dialectic form of the essay, which is commonly used in philosophy, the writer makes a thesis and argument, then objects to their own argument (with a counterargument), but then counters the counterargument with a final and novel argument. This form benefits from presenting a broader perspective while countering a possible flaw that some may present. This type is sometimes called an ethics paper.
An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers need to consider their subject, determine their purpose, consider their audience, decide on specific examples, and arrange all the parts together when writing an exemplification essay.
An essayist writes a familiar essay if speaking to a single reader, writing about both themselves, and about particular subjects. Anne Fadiman notes that "the genre's heyday was the early nineteenth century," and that its greatest exponent was Charles Lamb. She also suggests that while critical essays have more brain than the heart, and personal essays have more heart than brain, familiar essays have equal measures of both.
A history essay sometimes referred to as a thesis essay describes an argument or claim about one or more historical events and supports that claim with evidence, arguments, and references. The text makes it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.
A narrative uses tools such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and transitions that often build to a climax. The focus of a narrative is the plot. When creating a narrative, authors must determine their purpose, consider their audience, establish their point of view, use dialogue, and organize the narrative. A narrative is usually arranged chronologically.
An argumentative essay is a critical piece of writing, aimed at presenting objective analysis of the subject matter, narrowed down to a single topic. The main idea of all the criticism is to provide an opinion either of positive or negative implication. As such, a critical essay requires research and analysis, strong internal logic and sharp structure. Its structure normally builds around introduction with a topic's relevance and a thesis statement, body paragraphs with arguments linking back to the main thesis, and conclusion. In addition, an argumentative essay may include a refutation section where conflicting ideas are acknowledged, described, and criticized. Each argument of argumentative essay should be supported with sufficient evidence, relevant to the point.
An economic essay can start with a thesis, or it can start with a theme. It can take a narrative course and a descriptive course. It can even become an argumentative essay if the author feels the need. After the introduction, the author has to do his/her best to expose the economic matter at hand, to analyze it, evaluate it, and draw a conclusion. If the essay takes more of a narrative form then the author has to expose each aspect of the economic puzzle in a way that makes it clear and understandable for the reader
A reflective essay is an analytical piece of writing in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, memory, or form — adding a personal reflection on the meaning of the topic in the author's life. Thus, the focus is not merely descriptive. The writer doesn’t just describe the situation, but revisits the scene with more detail and emotion to examine what went well, or reveal a need for additional learning — and may relate what transpired to the rest of the author's life.
Other logical structures
The logical progression and organizational structure of an essay can take many forms. Understanding how the movement of thought is managed through an essay has a profound impact on its overall cogency and ability to impress. A number of alternative logical structures for essays have been visualized as diagrams, making them easy to implement or adapt in the construction of an argument.
Main article: Free response
In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, essays have become a major part of a formal education in the form of free response questions. Secondary students in these countries are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and essays are often used by universities in these countries in selecting applicants (seeadmissions essay). In both secondary and tertiary education, essays are used to judge the mastery and comprehension of the material. Students are asked to explain, comment on, or assess a topic of study in the form of an essay. In some courses, university students must complete one or more essays over several weeks or months. In addition, in fields such as the humanities and social sciences, mid-term and end of term examinations often require students to write a short essay in two or three hours.
In these countries, so-called academic essays also called papers, are usually more formal than literary ones. They may still allow the presentation of the writer's own views, but this is done in a logical and factual manner, with the use of the first person often discouraged. Longer academic essays (often with a word limit of between 2,000 and 5,000 words) are often more discursive. They sometimes begin with a short summary analysis of what has previously been written on a topic, which is often called a literature review.
Longer essays may also contain an introductory page that defines words and phrases of the essay's topic. Most academic institutions require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other supporting material in an essay be referenced in a bibliography or works cited page at the end of the text. This scholarly convention helps others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of facts and quotations the author uses to support the essay's argument and helps readers evaluate to what extent the argument is supported by evidence, and to evaluate the quality of that evidence. The academic essay tests the student's ability to present their thoughts in an organized way and is designed to test their intellectual capabilities.
One of the challenges facing universities is that in some cases, students may submit essays purchased from an essay mill (or "paper mill") as their own work. An "essay mill" is a ghostwriting service that sells pre-written essays to university and college students. Since plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty or academic fraud, universities and colleges may investigate papers they suspect are from an essay mill by using plagiarism detection software, which compares essays against a database of known mill essays and by orally testing students on the contents of their papers.
Magazine or newspaper
Main article: Long-form journalism
Essays often appear in magazines, especially magazines with an intellectual bent, such as The Atlantic and Harpers. Magazine and newspaper essays use many of the essay types described in the section on forms and styles (e.g., descriptive essays, narrative essays, etc.). Some newspapers also print essays in the op-ed section.
Employment essays detailing experience in a certain occupational field are required when applying for some jobs, especially government jobs in the United States. Essays known as Knowledge Skills and Executive Core Qualifications are required when applying to certain US federal government positions.
A KSA, or "Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities," is a series of narrative statements that are required when applying to Federal government job openings in the United States. KSAs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the successful performance of a position are contained on each job vacancy announcement. KSAs are brief and focused essays about one's career and educational background that presumably qualify one to perform the duties of the position being applied for.
An Executive Core Qualification, or ECQ, is a narrative statement that is required when applying to Senior Executive Service positions within the US Federal government. Like the KSAs, ECQs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The Office of Personnel Management has established five executive core qualifications that all applicants seeking to enter the Senior Executive Service must demonstrate.
A film essay (or "cinematic essay") consists of the evolution of a theme or an idea rather than a plot per se, or the film literally being a cinematic accompaniment to a narrator reading an essay. From another perspective, an essay film could be defined as a documentary film visual basis combined with a form of commentary that contains elements of self-portrait (rather than autobiography), where the signature (rather than the life story) of the filmmaker is apparent. The cinematic essay often blends documentary, fiction, and experimental film making using tones and editing styles.
The genre is not well-defined but might include propaganda works of early Soviet parliamentarians like Dziga Vertov, present-day filmmakers including Chris Marker,Michael Moore (Roger & Me (1989), Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line (1988)), Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me: A Film of Epic Portions) and Agnès Varda. Jean-Luc Godard describes his recent work as "film-essays". Two filmmakers whose work was the antecedent to the cinematic essay include Georges Méliès and Bertolt Brecht. Méliès made a short film (The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)) about the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, which mixes actual footage with shots of a recreation of the event. Brecht was a playwright who experimented with film and incorporated film projections into some of his plays.Orson Welles made an essay film in his own pioneering style, released in 1974, called F for Fake, which dealt specifically with art forger Elmyr de Hory and with the themes of deception, "fakery," and authenticity in general. These are often published online on video hosting services.
David Winks Gray's article "The essay film in action" states that the "essay film became an identifiable form of filmmaking in the 1950s and '60s". He states that since that time, essay films have tended to be "on the margins" of the filmmaking the world. Essay films have a "peculiar searching, questioning tone ... between documentary and fiction" but without "fitting comfortably" into either genre. Gray notes that just like written essays, essay films "tend to marry the personal voice of a guiding narrator (often the director) with a wide swath of other voices". The University of Wisconsin Cinematheque website echoes some of Gray's comments; it calls a film essay an "intimate and allusive" genre that "catches filmmakers in a pensive mood, ruminating on the margins between fiction and documentary" in a manner that is "refreshingly inventive, playful, and idiosyncratic".
In the realm of music, composer Samuel Barber wrote a set of "Essays for Orchestra," relying on the form and content of the music to guide the listener's ear, rather than any extra-musical plot or story.
A photographic essay strives to cover a topic with a linked series of photographs. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small notes to full-text essays with a few or many accompanying photographs. Photo essays can be sequential in nature, intended to be viewed in a particular order — or they may consist of non-ordered photographs viewed all at once or in an order that the viewer chooses. All photo essays are collections of photographs, but not all collections of photographs are photo essays. Photo essays often address a certain issue or attempt to capture the character of places and events.
In the visual arts, an essay is a preliminary drawing or sketch that forms a basis for a final painting or sculpture, made as a test of the work's composition (this meaning of the term, like several of those following, comes from the word essayJA's meaning of "attempt" or "trial").
- ^Holman, William (2003). A Handbook to Literature (9 ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p. 193.
- ^Gale – Free Resources – Glossary – DEArchived 2010-04-25 at the Wayback Machine.. Gale.cengage.com. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
- ^Aldous Huxley, Collected Essays, "Preface".
- ^"Book Use Book Theory: 1500–1700: Commonplace Thinking". Lib.uchicago.edu. Archived from the original on 2013-08-01. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
- ^ abessay (literature) – Britannica Online EncyclopediaArchived 2009-12-04 at the Wayback Machine.. Britannica.com. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
- ^Chapter 7: Cause and Effect in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 5: Classification and Division in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 6: Comparison and Contrast in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 2: Description in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Section 2.1 of the Simon Fraser University CNS Essay Handbook. Available online at: sfu.ca
- ^"How to Write an Ethics Paper (with Pictures) - wikiHow". Archived from the original on 2016-08-28. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
- ^Chapter 4: Exemplification in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Fadiman, Anne. At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays. p. x.
- ^Fadiman, At Large and At Small, xi.
- ^History Essay Format & Thesis Statement, (February 2010)
- ^Chapter 3 Narration in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
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- Theodor W. Adorno, "The Essay as Form" in: Theodor W. Adorno, The Adorno Reader, Blackwell Publishers 2000.
- Beaujour, Michel. Miroirs d'encre: Rhétorique de l'autoportrait'. Paris: Seuil, 1980. [Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait. Trans. Yara Milos. New York: NYU Press, 1991].
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- D'Agata, John (Editor), The Lost Origins of the Essay. St Paul: Graywolf Press, 2009.
- Giamatti, Louis. "The Cinematic Essay", in Godard and the Others: Essays in Cinematic Form. London, Tantivy Press, 1975.
- Lopate, Phillip. "In Search of the Centaur: The Essay-Film", in Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film. Edited by Charles Warren, Wesleyan University Press, 1998. pp. 243–270.
- Warburton, Nigel. The basics of essay writing. Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0-415-24000-X, ISBN 978-0-415-24000-0
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