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 refers to the
choice of words and
is the foundation of
voice and all good
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
• 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
They watched a pretty red sunset.
“My Papa’s Waltz”
Theodore Roethke
• 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.
line 4 - "was not easy"
• This understated
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
lines 7/8 - "My mother’s
countenance / Could not unfrown
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
for the tragedy.
Questions for Response
1). How does this
examination of
diction change
understanding of
how the poem
works as a
2). Find other
parts of the poem
in which diction
is important.
What do they
contribute to the
• 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
Detail – Read and Think
• 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
1. Which details support the attitude
that the narrator used to like having
her hair cut? Write those details and
talk about their effectiveness.
2. 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?
3. 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
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”
1. Write all of the vivid details in
the passage. How do the
details help you understand
the focus of the passage?
2. 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
3. Write a similar paragraph
about an old cat. Use lots of
vivid detail.
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.
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.
Read and Think
• 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.
1. Think of one word to
describe the dog in this
passage. Which details
in the passage support
your choice of words.
2. 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?
3. Rewrite the passage
eliminating all of the
specific detail. Discuss
the change in impact and
1. 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 wellcared for one.)
2. 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
• 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
• 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 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
• A simile is 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
• 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 bearlike qualities that can help us understand just how
hard the test was.
Metaphors and Similes
• Fill out the following chart:
Figure of
Metaphor or Literal
I got a flood of
mail yesterday.
Alice sang like a
Jeff was taller
than the Empire
State Building.
The shoes cost a
king’s ransom.
• 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.
Metaphors, Similes, and Personification
Literal Term
Metaphor Simile
Friendship lighthouse, Lea’s
is a
your room
is like a
wrapped my
sadness in a
warm blanket.
Read and Think
• 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
• Identify two examples
of figurative language
in the passage.
Figure of
or Simile
How do
you know?
2. What does the figurative
language add to the passage?
3. Rewrite the passage without
any figurative language.
Contrast your sentence with
the original. Talk about the
differences with a partner.
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
Identify the examples of personification
in the passage, and fill in the following
Example of
Literal term
2. How does the use of
personification help
the reader visualize
and connect to the
passage? What kind
of feeling is created
by the
3. 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.
• They are also non-literal
• They add richness and
multiple meanings to
writing and speech
• 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.
• 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
• NOW:
• Write a sentence about a great
basketball player, using hyperboles.
• 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.
Courage, bravery
Danger, piracy
• 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
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.
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
1. 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?
2. How does the use of a symbol help you
understand the passage?
3. 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
description, use the rainbow to
symbolize hope for better times ahead.
• 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.
• Syntax includes sentence structure,
word order, and punctuation.
•Tone is the
expression of
attitude in
You Can Do It!!!!!
• Effective diction gives freshness and
originality to writing. When you use
words in surprising and unusual ways,
you have the power to make people
think, laugh, or examine new ideas.
That’s a gift and a responsibility. Learn
to experiment and play with words.
You need a good vocabulary in order to
be a good writer.
Read and Think
• A redheaded woman was there with Trout. Kate
could see her rummaging through the cabin,
dumping drawers and knocking things from the
shelves of cabinets.
• 1. What picture do you get in your mind when
you read the second sentence?
• 2. How would the meaning of the sentence
change if we changed some of the words? For
Kate could see her searching through the
cabin, emptying drawers and taking things
off of the shelves of cabinets.
Now You Try It!!!!!!!
• Write a sentence describing a small
boy making a mess in a restaurant.
Choose words that are clear, concrete,
and exact. Start a collection of
“perfect” Words you can use later in
your writing.
Perfect Words
• stand / slouch
• pretty / delicate

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