VOICE IN WRITING Introduction: Purpose, Diction, Tone, Syntax
Quick Write: Why do people read/ write? Give as many reasons as possible. Also, generally speaking, why do you read/write?
Situational Practice (Groups) Your little sibling has just snuck into your room (AGAIN) to steal something he/she has no business with (i.e. your iPad). Establish a clear tone for each of the purposes implied below. Write down these messages. • You decide to present your case to your parental figure, attempting to persuade him/her to your side to effect change (i.e. keep the brat out of your stuff) • You talk to your little sibling and want to scare him/her into staying out of your room • You vent to your friend about the little sibling’s offenses • You write an essay in English class on sibling rivalry, and choose the example with your sibling as an anecdote for the essay
What is voice? • Definition: The quality of writing that sets the writer apart as a human and not a robot/machine • Components: • Word Choice (AKA Diction) • Sentence Structure (AKA Syntax) • Tone (established by diction as necessitated by purpose)—attitude toward topic/ reader • Emotions (or lack thereof)– how do you affect your reader?
Example of Voice #1 Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge Signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Example of Voice #2 First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. ***Here is a small fact*** You are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitelycan be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me. ***Reaction to the aforementioned fact*** Does this worry you? I urge you—don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair. Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
Example of Voice #3 “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Aunty Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas, is all told about in that book—which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.” Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Example of Voice #4 So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed ﬁelder’s mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the ﬁngers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the ﬁeld and nobody was up at bat. He’s dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You’d have liked him. JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Example of Voice #5 I don't think that there is a favorite kid in our family. There are three of us and I am the youngest. My brother is the oldest. He is a very good football player and likes his car. My sister is very pretty and mean to boys and she is in the middle. I get straight A's now like my sister and that is why they leave me alone. My mom cries a lot during TV programs. My dad works a lot and is an honest man. My Aunt Helen used to say that my dad was going to be too proud to have a midlife crisis. It took me until around now to understand what she meant by that because he just turned forty and nothing has changed. My Aunt Helen was my favorite person in the whole world. She was my mom's sister. She got straight A's when she was a teenager and she used to give me books to read. My father said that the books were a little too old for me, but I liked them so he just shrugged and let me read. Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
What is Literary Nonfiction? TRUE STORIES, WELL TOLD In some ways, creative nonﬁction is like jazz—it’s a rich mix of ﬂavors, ideas, and techniques, some of which are newly invented and others as old as writing itself. Creative nonﬁction can be an essay, a journal article, a research paper, a memoir, or a poem; it can be personal or not, or it can be all of these. The words “creative” and “nonﬁction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques ﬁction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonﬁction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonﬁction stories read like ﬁction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy. https://www.creativenonfiction.org/about
Examples of Literary Nonfiction • Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness • Truman Capote, In Cold Blood • Pat Conroy, The Water is Wide • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek • Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America • David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day • Danny Wallace, Yes Man • Richard Wright, Black Boy
Memoirs • Personal memoirs begin in the late 20th century (1980 onward, for those of you who don’t know how to count centuries) • Literary representations of memory (not of history) • [T]he best memoirists allow their life experiences to shed light on a culture, a historical moment, a time, a place, a social problem, a political issue that remains timely. –Natalia Rachel Singer
Popular Memoirs • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank • Bossypants by Tina Fey • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt • Night by Elie Wiesel • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers • Marley and Me by John Grogan • A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch • A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Authenticity and Style • Write the way you talk. Stop trying to impress people. • This does not mean you can write poorly—you still need to think through your writing and revise/edit your drafts. But you want your personality to shine. • Be simple and clear. • Write honestly. Don’t censor yourself.
EXAMPLE Let’s look at this example from a memoir and explore how the author is being authentic. We will try to identify elements of his style, too.
Excerpt from Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz In Houston, where I grew up, the only change in the weather came in late October when cold is sent down from Canada. Weathermen in Dallas would call weathermen in Houston so people knew to bring their plants in and watch after their dogs. The cold came down the interstate, tall and blue, and made reflections in the mirrored windows of large buildings, moving over the Gulf of Mexico as if to prove that sky holds magnitude over water. In Houston, in October, everybody walks around with a certain energy as if they are going to be elected president the next day, as if they are going to get married.
Literary Nonfiction Assignment • For our unit on literary nonfiction, you will read several examples of memoirs, and then compose your own memoir. • Sure, you could be lame and write a brief memoir about your first day of kindergarten (which you don’t even really remember). • But why would you want to do that when you could dig deeply into memories of experiences that shook the foundations of your being? That molded you into the young adult you are now?
Whether you seek to fill the minimum of the assignment or to pull brilliance from your past, here are the details: • Your memoir must be at least two pages long • Conventions should be followed, but can be stretched for creative purposes (i.e. use a sentence fragment for effect). Don’t try to excuse bad grammar as “creative writing.” You won’t fool me. • First-person narration is a must. It’s a memoir, after all. • Exercise those literary techniques. Throw in some dialogue, and be creative in your story-telling. Follow your VOICE. • Tell the truth! • Avoid unnecessary details, but make sure to finish painting the scene for the reader. Have a purpose, and convey your message completely but concisely. • Write first, edit later. Don’t worry about your grammar while you’re getting your ideas on the page. But please, do edit later. Seriously. Do it.
MEMOIR DUE DATES • ROUGH DRAFT—WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4 • FINAL DRAFT—WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
Dialogue Some vocabulary to know… • Dialogue= character conversation • An essential part of most short stories and novels. It is always better to show or have happen than to explain or to describe, and dialogue is one way to “show” and not “tell.” • Dialogue Tags= identify who is speaking • Examples of common dialogue tags include: I said Sallie yelled She said muttered Janice Fred said said Max Mark commented asked William
Dialogue Rule 1 All talking needs to be surrounded by quotation marks ("). "Go to your cupboard - I mean, your bedroom," he wheezed at Harry. The comma has to go inside the quotation marks.
Dialogue Rule 2 Instead of using a period at the end of the speech, use a comma if you are going to tell who is talking. "Las' time I saw you, you was only a baby," said the giant. "Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but yeh've got yer mum's eyes.”
Dialogue Rule 3 If you use a question mark, you don't need a comma too. "What do they think they're doing, keeping a thing like that locked up in a school?" said Ron finally. "If any dog needs exercise, that one does.”
Dialogue Rule 4 If you use an exclamation mark, you don't need to change to a comma. "A stone that makes gold and stops you ever dying!" said Harry. "No wonder Snape's after it! Anyone would want it.”
Dialogue Rule 5 If you have interrupted speech, to let the reader know who is speaking, a comma is needed before the break, and after the speaker's name. "Professor," Harry gasped, "your bird - I couldn't do anything - he just caught fire –”
Dialogue Rule 6 If someone is thinking about something, but doesn't say it out loud, you can either use quotation marks or not. Either way is acceptable. Of course, he thought bitterly, Uncle Vernon was talking about the stupid dinner party. Rowling chose not to use quotations around Harry's thoughts. She could just have easily used them like this... "Of course," he thought bitterly, "Uncle Vernon was talking about the stupid dinner party.”
Show, Don’t Tell The “Art” of Good Writing
The “Show, Don’t Tell” Technique • Helps the reader experience the story • How? • Well-chosen details– “Theory of omission”– what you leave out is as important as what you include • See Hemingway’s “Iceberg Principle” If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. • VIVID scenes • Don’t do it all the time—it takes more words and time to develop
Example TELLS SHOWS Mr. Bobweave heaved himself out of the chair. As his feet spread under his apple-like frame and his arthritic knees popped and cracked in objection, he pounded the floor with his cane while cursing that dreadful girl who was late again with his coffee. Mr. Bobweave was a fat, ungrateful old man.
A Quote to Consider “Good writers …let us see people and ideas in action rather than depend on qualifiers. They give us specifics: strong nouns, precise verbs, actions we can see and hear, reactions we can feel. An apple is big, red, round, crisp, shiny, and juicy. Unless this is a commercial for McIntosh apples, so what? Instead, a writer would try to show something about the apple only if there’s something to be shown—if a quality of the apple reflects some meaning in the sentence or story. For example: I gobbled the green apples I found in the clearing. Now we have specific: hunger, unripe apples, a forest setting: now the apple beings to have a significance we can understand (Atwell, p. 165).
How Can I Show, and Not Tell? • Strong diction (word choice) • Vivid images • Inference • Metaphor • Understatement • Unreliable Narrator • Ambiguity • Dialogue
Try It Out! Describe a young boy who is waiting in line to go on a ride at an amusement park for the first time in his life. Do not use the words excited, fun, or line.
Try It Out! Any suggestions for situations?
A WORD OF WARNING Don’t ALWAYS show instead of telling. A balance of the two is very important to avoid being too dramatic and wordy. As you read your work, make sure you are choosing the best details to use, and avoid unnecessary words/descriptions.
DICTION– INFORMATION • An author’s dictionis the word choices he/she makes to convey a particular tone (attitude) • Dictionis one part of an author’s voice, or personality • Diction is also an important part of Show, Don’t Tell—the words you choose to convey the thought can either show or tell
TIPS FOR YOUR DICTION • There are SO MANY WORDSin the English language—choose the words that best fit your purposes/ desired tone • Some authors spend hours/days/weeks agonizing over a single word choice (particularly in poems)—do you care enough about your words? Should you? • Consider how your word selection(s) fit in their position(s)– is that the best word for that phrase? That sentence? • Consider also CONNOTATION and DENOTATION
Connotation and Denotation • Denotation: the literal, “dictionary definition” meaning of a word • Connotation: the commonly understood, subjective cultural association of meaning with a word, in addition to the dictionary definition • For example, we use many different terms for young people. While “little one” and “brat” both literally refer to a young person, “little one” usually has a positive connotation (association), whereas “brat” typically has a negative connotation. You wouldn’t want to compliment a young mother by calling her child a “cute little brat.” (Child usually has a neutral connotation). • Other examples: • “Stink” versus “aroma” • “Reckless” plan versus “daring” plan • “Easygoing” friend versus “lazy” friend • Answer with “arrogance” versus answer with “confidence”
Positive, Negative, or Neutral? For the following images, write as many words as possible with POSITIVE, NEGATIVE, and NEUTRAL connotations.
VERBS OVER ADJECTIVES • Verbs add power to stories, and can create description more effectively than relying on adjectives (which can clutter writing). • Let’s read this blog post by Donald Miller (creative nonfiction writer) to discover more…