Elements of Voice • Writing with a clear voice doesn’t just happen; it requires conscious choices • You must practice the basic elements of voice
DICTION • Diction refers to the choice of words and is the foundation of voice and all good writing.
Diction Exercise • Let’s take a simple sentence and see how it • would be possible to rewrite it:She took an apple from under the tree.First, let’s alter the order, or syntax: From under the tree she took an apple. She, from under the tree, took an apple. From under the tree, an apple she took. They all make sense; we haven’t altered the basic meaning. But all three of these altered versions change something: The first brings the rhyme (she/tree) closer together. The second plays on our notion of suspense. The third sounds like it belongs in a ballad or some other form where the “took” at the end of the sentence is there either for emphasis, or to set up a rhyme (“ . . . that crook!”).
Now let’s alter the vocabulary: She picked up a fruit from the ground, where it lay.She pilfered an apple that had fallen from its tree.The lovely woman stooped and grabbed the fallen apple. In all three versions we have the basic elements— a woman, an apple, a tree —but they are given different emphasis.
A poet reworks diction, not always to the best effect. Let’s combine some of the altered vocabulary and syntax from above: From under the tree a lovely woman pilfered a fruit. Well, maybe, but the diction should be working toward a single effect, or enhancing an image, or accommodating meter.
Instructions on DICTION • Try rewriting the following simple phrases by altering diction (syntax, vocabulary, or both) while preserving the original sense. Think of each as a single line: You don't necessarily have to expand or elaborate to alter diction. What effect are you trying to achieve? Write your responses in your NOTEBOOK. • I was awash in memories, reliving the innocence of times past.Then, without warning, a knock came at the door.They watched a pretty red sunset.
The whiskey on your breath Could make a small boy dizzy; But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy. We romped until the pans Slid from the kitchen shelf; My mother’s countenance Could not unfrown itself. The hand that held my wrist Was battered on one knuckle; At every step you missed My right ear scraped a buckle. You beat time on my head With a palm caked hard by dirt, Then waltzed me off to bed Still clinging to your shirt. The poem is relatively brief, with clipped-sounding lines, and its language is for the most part reflective of a child’s vocabulary and thus a child’s perspective. Most of the words are monosyllabic, and if they are longer they are disyllabic, with one notable exception: the word countenance in line 7. The unusual diction in lines 6 and 7 stand out and give special weight to that section of the poem. “My Papa’s Waltz”Theodore Roethke
line 4 - "was not easy" This understated observation emphasizes that we are partially, even largely, in the mind of a child in this poem. There are more precise ways to describe the dance, but a child would probably not use a more sophisticated vocabulary. lines 7/8 - "My mother’s countenance / Could not unfrown itself." These are unusual and arresting lines in terms of diction, and they signal a change in the poem. Not only is countenance a relatively unusual word for facial expression, but the idea that the countenance has control over itself is odd. Also, unfrown is a made-up word, albeit one whose meaning is clear enough. These lines give special emphasis to the speaker’s consciousness of his mother. She is not mentioned anywhere else in the poem, but her disapproval of this scene and her apparent inability to do anything about it except scowl intensify the danger of the situation. If there is something potentially tragic about the interaction between father and child, there is also an audience forthe tragedy.
1).How does this examination of diction change your understanding of how the poem works as a whole? 2). Find other parts of the poem in which diction is important. What do they contribute to the work? Questions for Response
Detail • Detail refers to the facts, observations, reasons, examples, and incidents that develop a topic. • Writing is flat and boring without detail.
Detail - Getting Started • Think of a shopping trip to your favorite mall. Think about everything you might look at in that mall. • Now make a list of the details you might focus on during a shopping trip to the mall. • Next, decide your FOCUS: people, clothes, food, variety of experiences, commercialism, stores, unexpected things you find, activities, specific parts of the mall (like the video arcade). You decide. Write your focus.
Detail - Getting Started • Now write down your attitude. Are you thrilled, critical, neutral, mocking, angry, awed? • Finally. List as many details as you can that support your focus and develop your attitude. Choose only details that help your reader understand the focus and attitude you want to convey. • This time, shift your attention and think about your favorite time of year at the mall. Your attitude should be celebratory and happy. List all of the details you can that support this focus and attitude.
Detail - Getting Started • Notice how different this list is from your original list. Detail, used well, guides the experience of the reader where the writer wants him/her to go. • Think about focus and attitude. Pay careful attention to how accomplished writers use concrete, specific details. With practice, you can learn to use detail to shape your reader’s understanding.
I used to like going to have my hair cut. I liked the mirrors in the room and all the smells of lotions and shampoos. I like to sit there—young and fresh and pretty—and see what the women were having done, to make themselves look younger and prettier. I liked the way my mother’s hairdresser teased me about boyfriends and dances. Not anymore, though. Somebody held the door open so my mother could wheel me in, and a few people who had met me came around to say how sorry they were. Cynthia Voigt, Izzy, Willy-Nilly Which details support the attitude that the narrator used to like having her hair cut? Write those details and talk about their effectiveness. Which detail changes the direction of the passage? Note that the narrator’s reason for not liking haircuts anymore is not explained. Nevertheless, you know what has happened. What effect does that have on you, the reader? Write a paragraph using details to capture the reasons why you like a particular sport. Don’t explain why you like the sport. Instead, use details to show the reader what you like about the sport. If you want to experiment, try shifting the focus of your paragraph as Voigt does in her paragraph. Detail – Read and Think
He was an old man. His black, heavily wrinkled face was surrounded by a halo of crinkly white hair and whiskers that seemed to separate this head from the layers of dirty coats piled on his smallish frame. His pants were bagged to the knee, where they were met with rags that went down to the old shoes. The rags were held on with strings, and there was a rope around his middle. Walter Dean Myers, “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” Write all of the vivid details in the passage. How do the details help you understand the focus of the passage? There are several contrasting details in the passage, details that give two completely different pictures of the man. Identify contrasting details and discuss what these contrasts add to the over-all effect of the description. Write a similar paragraph about an old cat. Use lots of vivid detail. Detail – Read and Think
Details – Read and Think • It was full of every kind of desert plant that ever sprang out of dry hot earth. It was overrun with prairie dogs, squirrels, horned toads, snakes, and a variety of smaller forms of life. The space over this land knew only the presence of hawks, eagles, and buzzards. It was a region of loneliness, emptiness, truth, and dignity. It was nature at its proudest, driest, loneliest, and loveliest. William Saroyan, “The Pomegranate Trees” • Saroyan describes the scene as nature at its proudest, driest, loneliest, and loveliest. Which details support this statement? Notice that the first sentence does not mention specific plants, but the second sentence mentions several desert animals. Why do you think Saroyan does this: Write two sentences describing your room. The first sentence should be a simple statement of what’s in the room (It was full of. . .). The second should use lots of detail to capture a particular aspect of the room (your posters, your clothes, your collection of something, of the like). The finish the paragraph.
Discussion • Proudest – a region of truth and dignity driest – It was full of every kind. . .earth. loneliest – The space over. . .buzzards. -- It was a region of loneliness, emptiness. . .. loveliest - It was full. . .earth. It was overrun. . .life. 2. Too much detail can detract from the impact of the scene. In addition, too much detail can overwhelm the reader and turn a description into a catalogue, without focus or purpose. By selecting his detail, Saroyan determines the reader’s focus. Perhaps Saroyan chose to emphasize the animal life of the desert to emphasize the human connection. He sets the stage simply, giving the reader a brief look at the stark beauty of the land.
I almost cried at what I saw. His coat was dirty and mud-caked. His skin was stretched drum-tight over his bony frame. The knotty Joints of his hips and shoulders stood out a good three inches from his body. Think of one word to describe the dog in this passage. Which details in the passage support your choice of words. The details of this passage describe the dog from the outside (his coat) in –through his skin to his bones. How do these details affect the reader’s attitude toward the dog? Rewrite the passage eliminating all of the specific detail. Discuss the change in impact and meaning. Read and Think
Discussion • neglected, abandoned, deserted, forsaken (If you said skinny or emaciated, don’t mention the coat being dirty and mud-caked, which could be true of any dog, even a well-cared for one.) • The details of the passage take you deeper and deeper into the desolation of the dog. The coat could just be dirty, but the tight skin, the boniness, and the joints sticking out from the dog’s body are horrible details.
Figurative Language • Figurative language is the use of words in an unusual way to reveal new meaning, meaning that is not literal and makes the reader think
Introduction • Metaphors, similes, and personification are examples of figurative language. It is a way of saying one thing and meaning another. • It is a rich, strong, and vivid way to express meaning. • When Robert Burns, a famous poet, says, My love is like a red, red rose, he is saying many things: his love is beautiful, soft, and fragrant. The rose is red, the color of passion and love. The rose also has thorns, which says that there’s a potential danger in loving her. She may hurt him. The poet is able to compress many ideas into a single line.
Figurative Language • Figurative language can be overdone. When it is used over and over again, it loses its freshness and originality and becomes a cliche, a stale and overused expression. • Here are some examples: • Pretty as a picture • Quiet as a mouse • Laughter is the best medicine. • Every cloud has a silver lining. • It happened in the dead of night.
Metaphors • Metaphors and similes are used to compare things that are not usually seen as similar. • Metaphors imply the comparison, and similes state the comparison directly. • Example: • That test was a bear! You are not saying it was a literal bear but that it was hard to deal with. A metaphor implies a comparison in order to bring fresh, rich meaning to writing (and speaking).
Similes • A simileis a comparison, too. With a simile, however, the comparison is directly stated. • That test was like struggling with a bear! With a simile you come right out and state the comparison. Signal words that hint a simile is coming include as, like, than, similar to, and resembles. • Be careful, though. These words do not always indicate similes. If I say, “I look like my sister,” I am not using a simile; it is a literal statement.
Metaphors and Similes • Metaphors and similes have literal terms and figurative terms. • The literal term is what we are comparing to something else. In the metaphor “That test was a bear!” is TEST. • The figurative term is what is being compared to the literal term—something non-literal. The figurative term is BEAR. The test is not a bear, but it has some bear-like qualities that can help us understand just how hard the test was. • ?????
Metaphors and Similes • Fill out the following chart:
Personification • Personification is a special kind of metaphor that gives human qualities to something that is not human, such as an animal, an object, or an idea. • “The tree sighed sadly in the cold.” A tree can’t sigh or be sad. We are giving the tree characteristics of a person. The literal term is the tree (it really is a tree), and the figurative term is a person (the tree is not really a person who can sigh and be sad). In personification the figurative term is always a person.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” Identify two examples of figurative language in the passage. What does the figurative language add to the passage? Rewrite the passage without any figurative language. Contrast your sentence with the original. Talk about the differences with a partner. Read and Think
READ AND THINK • The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction. • Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows • Identify the examples of personification in the passage, and fill in the following chart.
How does the use of personification help the reader visualize and connect to the passage? What kind of feeling is created by the personification? • Write a short paragraph describing a friend’s room. In your description use personification at least one time. Use Grahame’s paragraph as a model.
HYPERBOLES, SYMBOLS, AND IRONY • They are also non-literal language • They add richness and multiple meanings to writing and speech
Hyperbole • A HYPERBOLE (hi per’ bo lee) is an exaggeration that is based in truth. • Remember that hyperboles must be an exaggeration and not literally true. • YOU TRY IT: • He could shoot a bumblebee in the eye at sixty paces, and he was a man who was not afraid to shake hands with lightning. Harold W. Felton Pecos Bill and the Mustang • This is an example of a hyperbole, an exaggeration that is based on truth but carries the truth to such an extreme that it is no longer literally true. What, then was the purpose of saying that he could?
Write the sentence without hyperbole. Discuss how hyperbole helps the reader understand what Pecos Bill is like. • NOW: • Write a sentence about a great basketball player, using hyperboles.
SYMBOLS • A symbol is something that stands for something else. Like similes and metaphors, symbols mean more than they say. A symbol, however, means something else AND itself. Symbols appear in the text, but they also represent an idea, something else. For example, a rainbow is a symbol of hope. It is a rainbow, but it is also the symbol of hope. That is the difference between a metaphor or simile and a symbol. “Her face lit up like a rainbow” is a simile-it is not a literal rainbow.
READ and THINK • The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts. Betty Smith A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
YOU WRITE A SYMBOL • Remember that a symbol is itself AND something else. This paragraph is about a tree, but it’s also about something else. What is that something else? When you identify the something else, you have understood the symbol. • Write the passage as a simile instead of symbolism. Discuss the difference. • Think of a plant that symbolizes your spirit. Write a paragraph which develops the plant as a symbol. Don’t compare the plant to anything (Don’t say, for example, “I am like a willow, flexible, graceful, and strong.”) Instead, talk about the plant in such a way that the reader understands you are talking about your spirit. (Of course, it’s hard!) Use the paragraph as a model.
SYMBOLS All this last day Frodo had not spoken, but had walked half-bowed, often stumbling, as if his eyes o longer say the way before his feet. Sam guessed that among all their pains he bore the worst, the growing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and a torment to his mind. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
TALK ABOUT IT • The ring in this book is, in fact, a ring; however, it is also something else. That, of course, makes the ring a symbol. What do rings usually symbolize? In other words, why would Tolkien use a ring as a symbol? • How does the use of a symbol help you understand the passage? • NOW YOU TRY IT: A rainbow is often used as a traditional symbol of hope. Write a paragraph describing a scene of misfortune and misery. In your description, use the rainbow to symbolize hope for better times ahead.
IRONY • IRONY is saying the opposite of what you mean • Like all FIGURES OF SPEECH, it is NOT to be taken literally. • A special case of IRONY is SARCASM. • SARCASM is IRONY that is meant to hurt. • IRONY is sometimes hard to understand. • It can be funny or serious, affectionate or contemptuous.
IRONY versus SARCASM • EX. If it is storming outside and you want to go for a swim, you might say, “Nice day, isn’t it?” That is ironic but not sarcastic. It isn’t a nice day, but the statement doesn’t hurt anyone. • If, however, someone in your class just got a terrible grade on an oral presentation and you say, “Nice job,” you are being both ironic and sarcastic. It wasn’t a nice job, and your comment is intended to hurt. • SARCASM is always IRONIC, but IRONY is not always SARCASTIC.
We divide the world in columns When we stick to our own kind. We nurture our suspicions, Keep our stereotypes in line. We have to keep our distance So we’ve another kind to blame. How come, If we’re so different, We both react the same? Sara Holbrook, “Major Differences,” Walking on the Boundaries of Change: Poems of Transition Several of the lines say one thing, but they mean quite the opposite. In other words, they’re IRONIC. What do the lines say, an what do the lines mean? Use the chart to jot down your ideas. READ and THINK
2. How would the impact of the poem change if we rewrote the last stanza like this? We shouldn’t keep our distance Nor stick to our own kind. Because It’s not so helpful And builds a narrow mind. Write a stanza of poetry about the importance of green vegetables. In your stanza, don’t come right out and give your opinion. Instead, use irony(not sarcasm) to convey your ideas. Use Holbrook’s poem as a model. NOW YOU TRY IT
Imagery • Imagery is the use of words to capture a sensory experience (what you hear, see, smell, taste, or touch). • Imagery brings life to what you write and makes it seem real.
More About Imagery • It is difficult to separate imagery from diction and detail. In fact, imagery depends on precise word choice and specific detail. The difference lies only in FOCUS: using words and details to capture a sensory experience. Effective imagery is built on effective diction and detail. • Imagery can be figurative or not. If you describe a family dinner as “a combination of boisterous conversation, badly burnt chicken, and the fragrance of freshly baked bread,” you would be using imagery, but not figurative language.
More “More About Imagery” • It describes the dinner exactly as it is, and there is not other meaning. • However, if you describe the meal as “a quilt of boisterous conversation. . .,” you would be using imagery that is figurative. A family dinner is not literally a quilt. It is like a quilt, combining different sounds, smells, and tastes. It is a METAPHOR and the metaphor is developed through imagery.
Read and Think • The silence was delicate. Aunty Ifeoma was scraping a burnt pot in the kitchen, and the kroo-kroo-kroo of the metal spoon on the pot seemed intrusive. Amaka and Papa-Nnukwu spoke sometimes, their voices low, twining together. They understood each other, using the sparest words. Watching them, I felt a longing for something I knew I would never have. I wanted to get up and leave, but my legs did not belong to me, did not do what I wanted them to. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus