Voice • The unique expression of the author’s personality • The fingerprint of a person’s language • The color and texture of communication
Understanding voiceGives an appreciation for the richness of language and a deeper understanding of writing, especially difficult literature
One goal of this course: to help you develop a personal voice, a distinctive writing style.To do so, you must first learn to recognize voice and analyze its elements.
Diction (word choice) is the foundation of voice and contributes to all of its elements.
Detail (facts, observations, and incidents) is used to develop a topic, shaping and seasoning voice.
Imagery (verbal representation of sense experience) brings the immediacy of sensory experience to writing and gives voice a distinctive quality.
Syntax (grammatical sentence structure) controls verbal pacing and focus.
DictionRefers to the author’s choice of words; the basic tools used to create the color and texture of written work. They reflect and determine the level of formality They shape the reader’s perceptions.
Diction reflects the writer’s vision and steers the reader’s thought.
When reading serious literature, don’t skip words you don’t know. It’s like wearing earplugs at a symphony To understand voice you must “hear” and “feel” their effects.
Good writers avoid words like pretty, nice and bad. Instead they use words that create a specific effect. A coat isn’t torn, it’s tattered. The U.S. Army doesn’t want revenge, it is thirsting for revenge.
Specific diction brings the reader into the scene, enabling full participation in the writer’s world.
Diction depends on topic, purpose and occasion. Topic often determines specificity and sophistication of diction.
For example, in a computer article: web interface, quaternary code.In a magazine for Irish musicians: slip jig, hornpipe, mazurka.
The writer’s purpose partly determines dictionWords chosen to impart a particular effect on the reader reflect and sustain the writer’s purpose.
Example: if the purpose is to inform, straightforward dictionis used.If the purpose is to entertain, a reader expects words used in ironic, playful or unexpected ways.
Diction also depends on the occasion As with clothes, the level of formality influences appropriate choices. Formal diction (for scholarly writing, serious prose, poetry)
Informal diction: the norm in expository essays, newspaper writing, fiction.Colloquial diction and slang: create a mood or capture a particular historic or regional dialect
Connotation (the meaning suggested by a word and Denotation (the literal meaning of a word)
When a writer calls a character slender, the word evokes a different feeling from calling the character gaunt.
A word’s power to produce a strong reaction in the reader lies mainly in its connotative meaning.
Finally, diction can impart freshness and originality to writing.Words used in surprising or unusual ways make us rethink what is known and re-examine meaning.
Good writers often opt for complexity rather than simplicity, multiple meanings rather than precision.
Thus, diction, the foundation of voice, shapes a reader’s thinking while guiding reader insight into the author’s idiosyncratic expression of thought: the writer’s voice.
“Art is the antidote that 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 the author imply about the inability to feel for another?
If we changed the word antidote to gift, what effect would it have on the meaning of the sentence?
Activity: Write a sentence using a medical term to characterize art.
“As I watched, the sun broke weakly through, brightened the rich red of the fawns, and kindled their 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 through to the sun burst through? Explain the effect this change would have on the use of the verb kindled.
“An aged man is but a paltry thingA tattered coat upon a stick…” - W.B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
By understanding the connotations of the word tattered, what do we understand about the persona’s attitude toward an aged man?
List three adjectives that can be used to describe a pair of shoes. Each adjective should connote a different feeling about the shoes.
Dean, Nancy. Voice Lessons: Classroom Activities to Teach Diction, Detail, Imagery, and Tone. Gainesville, Florida: Maupin House, 2000.