Discovering
Voice Lessons
Borrowed from Nancy Dean
Diction
 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.
~ Louis Sachar, Holes
Diction
 Think
about it:
1. What picture do you get in your mind
when your read the second sentence?
2. How would the meaning of the sentence
change if we changed some of the
words? For example:
“Kate could see her searching through
the cabin, emptying drawers and taking
things off of the shelves of cabinets.”
Diction
 Now
 Write
you try it:
a sentence describing a small boy
making a mess in a restaurant. Choose
words that are clear, concrete, and
exact.
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 liked 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 Voight, Izzy,
Willy-Nilly
Detail

1.
2.
Think about it:
Which details support the attitude that the
narrator used to like having her hair cut?
Which detail changes the direction of the
passage? 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?
Detail
 Now
 Write
you try it:
a paragraph using details to
capture the reasons why you like a
particular sport or other activity. Don’t
explain why you like the sport/activity.
Instead, use details to show the reader
what you like about it.
Metaphors and Similes
 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 Dream”
Metaphors and Similes
 Talk
1.
2.
about it:
Identify two examples of figurative
language in the passage. Are the
figures of speech metaphors or similes?
How do you know the language is
figurative?
What does the figurative language add
to the passage?
Metaphor and Simile
 Now
you try it:
 Rewrite the passage from Dr. King’s
speech without any figurative language.
Contrast your sentence with the original.
Personification
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

Personification

1.
2.
Think about it:
Remember that personification is a kind of
metaphor, an implied comparison that
always has a human being as its figurative
term. Identify the examples of
personification in the passage and note the
literal term and the figurative term.
How does the use of personification help the
reader visualize and connect to the
passage? What kind of feeling is created by
the personificaiton?
Personification
 Now
you try it:
 Write a short paragraph describing a
friend’s room. In your description use
personification at least one time.
Hyperbole
 Read
and think:
 “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
Hyperbole
Think about it:
1. This is an example of hyperbole, an
exaggeration that is based on truth but
carries to such an extreme that it is no longer
literally true. Of course, Pecos Bill couldn’t
literally do these things. What, then, is the
purpose of saying that he could?
2. Compare Felton’s sentence with this one:
He could shoot very well, and he was not
afraid of anything.
Which sentence better helps the reader
understand what Pecos Bill is like? Why?

Hyperbole
 Now
 Write
you try it.
a sentence about a great athlete or
other celebrity, using hyperboles. Model
your sentence after Felton’s sentence.
Symbols
 Read
and think:
 “Flowers and other things have been laid
against the wall. There are little flags, an
old teddy bear, and letters, weighted with
stones so they won’t blow away.
Someone has left a rose with a droopy
head.”
~ Eve Bunting , The Wall
Symbols

1.
2.
Think about it:
This passage is from a book about the Vietnam
War Memorial in Washington, D.C. There are
several symbols in the passage. Identify the
symbols and explain what they mean.
Looks at the last sentence about the rose.
Remember that it is a rose, but it’s also
something else. What does the rose usually
symbolize? Why does it have a droopy head
here? What does the droopy head add to our
understanding of the symbol and the feeling of
the passage?
Symbols
 Now
you try it:
 List as many traditional symbols as you
can think of.
 What are the symbols and what does
each stand for?
Irony
 Read
and think:
“Oh, and there’s a thrilling shot of one of
the kids being sick on a small fishing boat off
the coast of Florida and we are hovering
over him offering him salami and
mayonnaise sandwiches. That one really
breaks us up.
~ Erma Bombeck, “At Wit’s End”
Irony
 Think
1.
2.
about it:
Remember that verbal irony implies the
opposite of what is said, and irony may
or may not be sarcastic (intending to
hurt). Bombeck describes a picture from
a family vacation as thrilling. Is it ironic?
Is it sarcastic?
Why is this passage funny?
Irony
 Now
you try it:
 Write a few sentences describing a family
outing you didn’t enjoy. Include at least
one example of verbal irony (sarcastic or
not).
Imagery


Read and think:
“The silence was delicate. Aunty Ifeoma was
scraping a burnt pot in the kitchen, and the krookroo-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
Imagery

1.
2.
Think about it:
Imagery is the re-creation of sensory
experience through language. Which of the
five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell)
is most important here? Which words create
this sense experience for the reader?
The kroo-kroo-kroo of the metal spoon on
the pot is described as intrusive. What does
this mean? What image is contrasted with
the sound of the metal spoon on the pot?
What effects does this have on the
passage?
Imagery
 Now
you try it:
 Describe your school hallways between
classes. Focus on the sounds that are
important in the scene. Use two
contrasting images and a made-up word
which imitates a sound.
Syntax
 Read
and think:
 “He was a year older than I, skinny, brown
as a chocolate bar, his hair orange, his
hazel eyes full of mischief and laughter.
~ Esmerelad Santiago, When I Was Puerto
Rican
Syntax

1.
Think about it:
Look carefully at the way this sentence is
written. All of the words that follow the word
I are used to describe the he of the
sentence. They are adjectives and
adjective phrases. This is not the way words
are usually ordered in English. In English,
adjectives are usually right before the nouns
they modify, or at least right next to them.
What effect does this word order have on
the meaning of the sentence?
Syntax
 Think
about it continued:
 Placing
all of the adjectives and adjective
phrases one after the other is called
layering. What effect does this layering
have on the impact of the sentence?
Syntax
 Now
you try it:
 Fill in the blanks to create a sentence
similar to Santiago’s sentence.
 He(She)
was ____(comparative of an
adjective) than I, ____ (adjective), ____
(simile that describes the subject), his/her
hair _____ (adjective), his/her eyes _____
(adjective phrase).
Tone
 Read
and think
 “Rachel/Rachelle and some other twit
natter about the movie date before Mr.
Stetman starts class. I want to puke.
Rachel/Rachelle is just ‘Andythis,” and
“Andythat.” Could she be more
obvious? I close my ears to her stupid
asthmatic laugh and work on homework
that was due yesterday.” ~ Laurie halse
Anderson, Speak
Tone:
 Think
1.
2.
about it:
What is the attitude of the narrator
toward Rachel/Rachelle? What diction,
detail, and imagery reveal this attitude?
What is the tone of the passage? How
do you know? Look at your list of tone
words and decide which words best
describe the tone of this passage.
Tone
 Now
you try it:
 Write a short paragraph about a
particularly awful cafeteria lunch. Your
tone should be disrespectful and
mocking. Don’t come right out and say
that your disrespect and mock cafeteria
food. Instead use diction, detail, imagery,
and syntax to create this tone.
Diction
 “M.C.
heard him scramble and strain his
way up the slope of Sarah’s mountain.” ~
Virginia Hamilton, M.C. Higgins, the Great
Diction
 What
does it mean to scramble and strain
up a mountain? Try to picture this scene in
your mind.
 How would it change your mental picture
if we rewrote the sentence like this?
M.C. heard him walk up the slope of Sarah’s
mountain.
Diction
 Now
 Write
you try it:
a sentence describing someone
slowly climbing up a flight of stairs. Use
Hamilton’s sentence as a model,
including two descriptive verbs as she did.
Detail

“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 his 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 strings, and
there was a rope around his middle. ~ Walter
Dean Myers, “The Treasure of Lemon Brown”
Detail


List 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. For example, the
passage says the man is wearing layers of dirty
coats, which makes him sound padded and
heavy, but he is also described as having a
smallish frame, which makes him seem frail.
Indentify other contrasting details in the passage.
What do these contrasts add to the overall effect
of the description.
Detail
 Now
you try it.
 Using
Walter Dean Myer’s paragraph as
model, write a similar paragraph about
an old cat (dog). Use lots of vivid detail.
Metaphors and Similes

“I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening
pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my
skin.”
~ Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist,” Words
Under the Words: Selected Poems
Metaphor and Simile
 What
is the metaphor in this poem? What
is the literal term? What is the figurative
term? What does the metaphor mean?
 How would the meaning and impact of
these lines change if Nye had simply said,
My stomach really hurt?
Metaphor and Simile
 Now
you try it.
 Rewrite
the figurative term in Nye’s
metaphor. Try to express feelings of
anxiety and pain – both physical and
emotional – with your metaphor.
 My
stomach was ____________________.
Personification
 The
camp faced a wide cover of white
sand and palm trees. The bay was so
perfectly blue, it looked like it had been
retouched for a tourist brochure. Across
the bay stood protective mountains,
shoulder to shoulder, across the
Concepcion peninsula.
~ Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the
Traveling Pants
Personification
 Note
the example of personification in the
third sentence. What are the literal and
figurative terms.
 How would the meaning of the third
sentence change if it were written like
this? There were mountains across the
Concepcion peninsula.
Personification
 Now
you try it.
 Describe
a place you like to go to in the
summer. In your description, use at least
one example of personification.
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Discovering Voice Lessons