Elements of Voice
Part 1:
Diction
Words
• The basic tools of a writer
• They create color and texture
• They reflect and to determine the formality
of the piece
• They shape the readers’ perceptions
• Clear, concrete and exact words convey
an author’s voice
Diction
• The author’s choice of words
• Directs a writer’s vision and steers a
reader’s thought
Alternative Diction
• Instead of:
– The coat is torn
– The U.S. wants
revenge
– The door shuts
– She ate the cookie
– He looked around the
room
• Try:
– The coat is tattered
– The U.S. thirsts for
revenge
– The door thuds
– She nibbled the cookie
– He glanced around the
room
Diction and Rhetoric
• Diction is dependent on the audience, the
purpose, and the topic
• When one of the components of the
rhetoric triangle changes, the diction must
be reevaluated, as well.
Rhetoric Purpose
• Purpose:
– Inform
– entertain
• Diction:
– Straightforward
– Ironic, playful,
unexpected
Diction and Occasion
Formality influences appropriate
diction
• Occasion:
– Scholarly writing and
serious prose/poetry
– Expository essays,
newspaper, editorials
and works of fiction
– Historical or regional
dialect and/or specific
mood/character
development
• Diction
– Formal
– Informal
– Colloquial language
and slang
Diction
• Connotation: the meaning suggested by
a word
• Denotation: the literal meaning of the
word
Connotative Power
• The writer’s ability to produce a strong
reaction in the reader lies in finding words
with the right connotation.
Connotation
•
•
•
•
The character had a slender figure.
The character had a thin figure.
The character had an emaciated figure.
The character had a skinny figure.
Connotation
• The man liked the woman’s company.
• The man enjoyed the woman’s company.
• The man desired the woman’s company.
Connotation
• The big sandwich sat on the table.
• The robust sandwich waited on the table.
• The enormous sandwich rested on the
table
Diction and Originality
• Strong writers use words in surprising or
unusual ways to make a reader rethink an
idea or re-examine meaning.
• This often happens by selecting words that
have multiple meanings and/or by using
words in a context they are not often
associated—breaking the denotative mold.
Practice
Write it down:
“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
Think
• What kind of flame does kindled imply?
• How does this verb suit the purpose of this
sentence?
• How would the effect of this sentence
change if the verb kindled were changed
to ignited.
Think
• Would the sentence be strengthen or
weakened by changing “the sun broke
weakly through” to “the sun burst
through?”
• Explain how this change would impact the
use of the word kindled.
Apply
• Brainstorm a list of action verbs that
demonstrate the effects of sunlight
(alternatives to broke through, burst
through, brightened, etc.)
• How do some of these impact the meaning
of the poetic line?
Practice
“The man sighed hugely.”
--E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
• What does it mean to sigh hugely?
• How would the meaning of the sentence
change if we rewrote it as: The man sighed
loudly?
• Fill in the blank with an adverb: The man
coughed __________. Your adverb should
make the cough express an attitude (contempt,
desperation, propriety, etc.) Don’t state the
attitude, let the adverb imply it.
Consider
Newts are the most common of salamanders. Their
skin is a lighted green, like water in a sunlit pond, and
rows of very bright red dots line their backs. They
have gills as larvae; as they grow they turn a
luminescent red, lose their gills, and walk out of the
water to spend a few years padding around in damp
places on the forest floor. Their feet look like fingered
baby hands, and they walk in the same leg patterns
as all four-footed creatures-dogs, mules, and, for that
matter, lesser pandas.
~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Discuss
1. What is the difference between a lighted
green and a light green? Which one to
you think creates a more vivid picture?
2. What is the effect of saying fingered baby
hands instead of simply baby hands?
Apply
Compare the neck of each of the animals
below to something familiar. Use Dillard’s
comparison (Their feet look like fingered
baby hands) as a model.
Share one of your comparisons with the
class and explain the attitude it conveys
about the animal.
• The elephant’s neck looks like _________
• The gazelle’s neck looks like _______
• The flamingo’s neck looks like _______
Consider
This is earthquake
Weather!
Honor and Hunger
Walk lean
Together.
~ Langston Hughes, “Today”
Discuss
1. What does lean mean in this context?
2. Is lean a verb, an adjective, or both?
How does this uncertainty and
complexity contribute to the impact of the
lines?
Apply
With a partner, read the poem aloud several
times, changing the meaning of lean with
your voice. Discuss how you controlled
your voice to make the changes.