Top 71 Neutral Tone Words To Set the Scene of Your Story

Neutral tone words can give your readers time to form their own opinions about your characters; use these terms to write descriptively without swaying the opinion of your reader.

Sometimes, you don’t want to give too much of your story away too soon, and using words that set a neutral tone can allow your readers to keep an open mind without attaching emotion to characters or situations. Using these neutral terms (instead of more emotionally charged options) can help you introduce your storyline while allowing your readers to make their own decisions about the feel of your book, poem, or other work. 

What Are Neutral Tone Words?

Example of neutral tone words
Disbelief is one great example of neutral words that you can add to your writing

Many words bring up immediate emotions. It’s hard to hear words like showstopping, infuriating, or agonizing without assuming an emotional connotation. Using neutral tone words, you can set scenes that allow your readers to make up their minds rather than trying to convince them of how they should feel about your characters. This opens the door to deeper character development, where your readers can make their own judgment calls.


Everyday Neutral Terms

These neutral terms are perfect for everyday writing, whether you’re sending an email to catch up with a friend or working to create a compelling narrative that feels readable for a wide audience. 

1. Ambivalent

Olivia felt ambivalent about her options in her career, as she was curious about the new role she was offered at work, but she also loved her current position.

2. Apathetic

Brendan tried to get excited about watching the movie his best friend couldn’t wait to see, but he couldn’t help but feel apathetic.

3. Baffled

Lily was baffled by her homework, no matter how many times she went over the notes she took in class.

4. Bored

“I’m so bored at home,” said Kelly, even though summer vacation only started two weeks prior.

5. Ceremonial

The wedding was purely ceremonial, as they signed the papers to make it legal weeks prior.

6. Callous

Lily was callous when she told Jared that the company wouldn’t renew his contract the following year.

7. Candid

“I’ll be candid. I appreciate that you tried to get to know my family, but you really need to work on being a better house guest,” said Charlie.

8. Cautionary

She told her little sister a cautionary tale before she left for college.

9. Complex

The instructions for putting together the toy car track were complex,

10. Compliant

“Following these instructions will help to ensure we’re compliant with industry-wide regulations,” said the corporate trainer at the start of the meeting. 

11. Composed

The hockey team was composed as they took to the ice, presenting a sense of calm.

12. Controlled

She stood with controlled nervousness as she lifted the bow to touch the strings. 

13. Cynical

“You don’t have to be so cynical about my goals,” responded Shelly to her grandfather.

14. Defensive

Julie immediately became defensive when Brandon told her that her little sister lacked the talent to be a successful college athlete. 

15. Detached

Paul felt detached from his family, as he couldn’t stop thinking about his next project at work, no matter how much he worked to stay present at home.

16. Detailed

The mosaic was beautifully detailed, and the closer Otto looked at the tiles, the more amazed he was at the careful work the artist put into the public art piece.

17. Direct

June realized the importance of being direct with her students.

18. Disbelief

They stood in quiet disbelief as their mom told them they’d soon welcome a new sibling.

19. Disinterested

While she tried to pay attention to the lecture, she couldn’t help but feel disinterested about the topic.

20. Dramatic

“Don’t mind Missy’s moodiness; she can be dramatic,” said the teacher.

21. Distant

“You seem distant today,” Marjorie said to her daughter, “Did something happen at school that you’re nervous to talk to me about?”

22. Earnest

He was an earnest employee, always working toward bettering the company.

23. Expectant

She walked into the restaurant feeling expectant, excited, and ready to feign shock at the gathering of her loved ones for her birthday.

24. Factual

Gary went over the details of the police report as he wanted to be sure it was factual, detailed, and to the point.

25. Formal

Charles wasn’t sure how to behave at such a formal event, but as he slipped on his tuxedo jacket, he felt confident that he had the dress code figured out.

26. Frivolous

“You’re being too frivolous; it’s time to curb your spending,” Daphne told her roommate.

27. Humble

Reporters were always surprised at how humble Jackie was after she won yet another gold medal.

28. Impartial

Calvin knew that the judge would remain impartial, but he was still nervous about whether the judge would consider his past legal issues.

29. Impersonal

Kylie couldn’t believe how impersonal Ryan was when he told her he wasn’t interested in a second date.

30. Indifferent

Ruth felt indifferent about taking the job, not feeling strongly pulled in either direction.

31. Informative

The report was comprehensive and informative, detailing how much money the school made from each item sold at the annual fundraising auction.

32. Instructive

The booklet was instructive and made putting the furniture together easy.

33. Intense

The temper tantrums of a two-year-old can be intense, but they don’t last long.

34. Loud

The audience roared with loud applause as the basketball team jogged onto the court.

35. Matter-of-fact

The meter maid was matter-of-fact as she wrote my parking ticket, unbothered by my explanation.

36. Meditative

Around mile 10, Jennifer fell into a meditative state, knowing she’d have no problem completing the remaining 3.1 miles of her first half-marathon.

37. Objective

Taylor worked to remain objective as she listened to Robin’s complaints about work.

38. Patriotic

The patriotic singer donned a red, white, and blue outfit as she took the stage to sing the national anthem.

39. Persuasive

Penny was a persuasive child, always supporting her requests with arguments that made sense.

40. Pleading

Jody was pleading with her instructor to let her turn her homework in late; it was the difference between passing and failing the class.

41. Pleasing

The space became aesthetically pleasing as soon as the new furniture arrived.

42. Pretentious

The restaurant was stuffy and pretentious, nothing like the fast-food joints they were used to.

43. Questioning

“I’m questioning whether Seattle is the right fit for me,” said Rick to his mother.

44. Reflective

Roland felt reflective as he kicked back and relaxed on the beach, thinking about his accomplishments in the past year.

45. Resign

“This is hard to say, but I’ve decided to resign from my position at the end of the year,” Michelle sadly said.

46. Serious

The look on Jack’s face was serious, and Pam knew that he wasn’t playing around.

47. Sincere

Barb complimented Moira’s uptick in energy following her weight loss, and Moira smiled at how sincerely her friend spoke of her efforts.

48. Solemn

The mood across the town was solemn and tense as residents waited for the current tropical storm to inevitably progress into a hurricane.

49. Uncomfortable

“It’s uncomfortable, but it could be worse,” said Lynn as she put on her life preserver before taking her place on the rowboat.

50. Undecided

Chelsea remained undecided as far as where she was going to go to college in the fall.

51. Unusual

It’s unusual for babies to drop their second nap so early, according to her pediatrician.

52. Urgent

“Please make sure you ask for the package to be marked urgent at the post office,” said Lauren.

Neutral Terms for Sophisticated Prose

Looking to be descriptive without evoking emotion from your readers? These less-common words can help you get your point across while staying impartial. This technique can be especially useful toward the beginning of the character development process.

53. Aloof

Sparkle was a sweet cat, but she was aloof; a mouse could run right by her, and she’d be too busy watching a piece of dust in the air to notice.

54. Apprehensive

Stephanie felt apprehensive as she waited for the results of her blood test to come in.

55. Conciliatory

In a conciliatory effort, Mrs. Queensly presented the runner-up of the spelling bee with a smaller trophy.

56. Conventional

Her grandmother was a fan of all things conventional and didn’t like to move out of the box.

57. Colloquial

Veronica was shocked at how much colloquial language she had to learn after moving to a new region.

58. Didactic

As she wrote her blog post, she worked on writing in a didactic manner, teaching others how they could make their way from an entry-level job to a C-suite position. 

59. Docile

The puppy was excited yet docile and seemed to take extra care not to be too playful with babies and small children.

60. Inquisitive

Young children are naturally inquisitive, always asking questions about the world around them.

61. Introspective

Feeling introspective, Max took some time to meditate after arriving home.

62. Lyrical

Her voice had a lyrical quality, singsonging its way from one word to the next.

63. Pensive

As she sat down with her journal, Lydia felt pensive, ready to reflect on the day and put her thoughts onto paper.

64. Pragmatic

Jen took a pragmatic approach to planning meetings, but Susan always looked for the next thing to wow attendees.

65. Reminiscent 

The melody was reminiscent of her wedding song and brought back good memories.

66. Sentimental

It looked like an ordinary necklace, but to Olivia, it held the sentimental memories of the last time she got to see her grandmother.

67. Shocking

The temperature outside was shocking; no one expected the fall chill to set in so quickly.

68. Straightforward

While setting up the blood drive, Carmen knew she’d need to provide straightforward directions on where donors should go.

69. Subdued

Sam’s usual boisterous personality was subdued that day, as he wasn’t looking forward to the argument he knew he’d face as soon as he walked in the door at home.

70. Unconcerned

She waltzed down the street to the beach in her swimsuit, unconcerned with the opinions of other vacationers. 

71. Understated

The party was elegant yet understated, as Martha knew her sister would feel uncomfortable if they went all-out to celebrate the end of her medical career.

Looking for more? Discover our descriptive words list!


  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.