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VOICE LESSONS. NANCY DEAN. Voice Lessons : Four Elements. DICTION : the author’s choice of words for a specific purpose. An aged man is but a paltry thing A tattered coat upon a stick… —W. B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”. DETAIL : “facts, observations, and incidents”.

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Voice lessons



Voice lessons four elements
Voice Lessons : Four Elements

DICTION: the author’s choice of words for a specific purpose

An aged man is but a paltry thing

A tattered coat upon a stick…

—W. B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

DETAIL: “facts, observations, and incidents”

About suffering, they were never wrong,

The Old Masters; how well they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

—W. H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux-Arts”

Voice lessons four elements 2
Voice Lessons : Four Elements, 2

Imagery: Verbal representation of sense experience

It was a mine town, uranium most recently. Dust devils whirled sand off the mountains. Even after the heaviest of rains, the water seeped back into the ground, between stones, and the earth was parched again.

—Linda Hogan, “Making Do”

Syntax: grammatical sentence structure

I slowed still more, my shadow pacing me, dragging its head through the weeds that hid the fence.

—William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Voice lessons lesson format
Voice Lessons: Lesson Format

A quotation highlighting the element under study


  • A direct reading question about the element, often identification and interpretation

  • A second question, often more hypothetical, abstract, or comparative


  • An activity, often imitative

Voice lessons 1 diction
Voice Lessons 1: DICTION

As I watched, the sun broke weakly through, brightened the rich red of the fawns, and kindledtheir white spots.

— E. B. White, “Twins,” Poems and Sketches of E. B. White


  • What kind of flame does kindled imply? How does this verb suit the purpose of the sentence?

  • Would the sentence be strengthened or weakened by changing the sun broke weakly throughto the sun burst through? Explain the effect this change would have on the use of the verb kindled.


  • Brainstorm with your team a list of action verbs that demonstrate the effects of sunlight.

Voice lessons 2 diction
Voice Lessons 2: DICTION

Art is the antidotethat can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another.

— Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson


  • By using the word antidote, what does Kingsolver imply about the inability to feel for another?

  • If we change the word antidote to gift, what effect would it have on the meaning of the sentence?


  • Develop a list of medical terms; then write a sentence using a medical term to characterize art. Explain the effect this term has on the meaning of the sentence.

Voice lessons 3 detail
Voice Lessons 3: DETAIL

An old man, Don Tomasito, the baker, played the tuba. When he blew into the huge mouthpiece, his face would turn purple and his thousand wrinkles would disappear as his skin filled out.

— Alberto AlvaroRios, “The Iguana Killer”


  • The first sentence is a general statement. How does the second enrich and intensify the first?

  • Contrast the second sentence with the following:When he blew the tuba, his face turned purple and his cheeks puffed out.Which sentence more effectively expresses an attitude toward Tomasito? What is the attitude and how is it communicated?


  • Describe someone jumping over a puddle. Your first sentence should be general, stating the action simply. Your second sentence should clarify and intensify the action through detail. Read your sentences to each other.

Voice lessons 4 detail
Voice Lessons 4: DETAIL

Charley (to Willy): Why must everybody be like you? Who liked J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he’d look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked. Now listen, Willy, I know you don’t like me, and nobody can say I’m in love with you, but I’ll give you a job because—just for the hell of it, put it that way. Now what do you say?

— Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman


  • Who was J. P Morgan? What is a Turkish bath? What picture comes to mind when someone is said to look like a butcher? How do these details contribute to the point Charley is trying to make?

  • How would the passage be different if Charley said J. P. Morgan would look like a baker in a Turkish bath?


  • Think of someone famous and powerful. Use detail to create an unflattering but accurate description of the physical appearance of this famous person. Model your description on Miller’s description of J. P. Morgan. “Share” your description with your teammates. (Note that Charley is not deprecating Morgan; fight any temptation to create silly or insulting pictures of people.)

Voice lessons 5 syntax
Voice Lessons 5: SYNTAX

Brother, continue to listen.

You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to his mind; and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and we are lost. How do we know this to be true?

Chief Red Jacket, “Chief Red Jacket Rejects a Change of Religion”


  • The words you say are repeated several times in the sentence. What is the repetition’s function?

  • The question at the end of the passage is a rhetorical question. What attitude toward the audience is expressed by the use of a rhetorical question?


    Write a three-sentence paragraph modeled after Chief Red Jacket’s passage. The first two sentences should contain repetition; the third sentence should be a rhetorical question. Your topic is school uniforms. Share your sentence with your team.

Voice lessons 6 imagery
Voice Lessons 6: Imagery

At first I saw only water so clear it magnified the fibers in the walls of the gourd. On the surface, I saw only my own round reflection. The old man encircled the neck of the gourd with his thumb and index finger and gave it a shake. As the water shook, then settled, the colors and lights shimmered into a picture, not reflecting anything I could see around me. There at the bottom of the gourd were my mother and father scanning the sky, which was where I was.

— Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior


  • What kind of imagery does Kingston use in this passage? Circle the images.

  • Compare and contrast the imagery of the last sentence with the imagery of the first four.


    Write a sentence which uses precise visual imagery to describe a simple action. Share your sentence with your teammates.

Voice lesons 7 tone
Voice Lesons 7: Tone

Piazza diSpagna, Early Morning

I can’t forget

How she stood at the top of that long marble stair

Amazed, and then with a sleepy pirouette

Went dancing slowly down to the fountain-quiet square.

Nothing upon her face

But some impersonal loneliness,—not then a girl,

But as it were a reverie of the place,

A called-for falling glide and whirl;

As when a leaf, petal, or thin chip

Is drawn to the falls of a pool and, circling a moment above it,

Rides on over the lip—

Perfectly beautiful, perfectly ignorant of it.

—Richard Wilbur

Voice lesson 7 continued
Voice Lesson 7 (continued)


  • What is the speaker’s attitude toward the woman he describes? List the images, diction, and details that support your position.

  • Consider the last line of the poem. How does the repetition of the syntactical structure (adverb adjective, adverb adjective) support the tone of the poem?


    Using Wilbur’s poem as a model, write a sentence which expresses stunned admiration for a stranger. Use repetition of a syntactical structure to create your tone.

Voice lessons1


…classroom magic!