The narrative tone represents the specific undertone and atmosphere of a dramatic unit or of the entire film. It may mirror the genre or the writer’s attitude.
Basically the narrative tone can be categorized into comic and dramatic. When a scene is to be laid out comically all cinematic elements are slightly exaggerated and the actors play a bit over the top. This produces the ‘comic distance’ making the audience laugh rather than empathize. A dramatic scene on the other hand needs to concentrate the conflict and create empathy for the characters.
The question of the narrative tone is not a question of the represented content: a dramatic or tragic scene may be deliberately contrasted with a comic narrative tone to create comic relief, making the audience laugh with relief. Alternatively a character may tell a joke using a dramatic narrative tone. Especially the kick at the end of a scene offers a great possibility to accentuate the narrative tone.
Today most stories are not plainly told in a comic or dramatic tone but rather using a mix between the two – regardless of the film label being ‘drama’ or ‘comedy’. The overall tone of the film therefore consists of different single narrative tones. These may change from scene to scene. Within a storyline though, the stress is put on the consistency of narrative tone. This is because a tone is usually associated with a character. Is one character rather comically drawn then the narrative tone of voice will be equally comical.
Parker, Philipp: The Art and Science of Screenwriting. Bristol 2009.