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: • What picture do you get in your mind when your read the second sentence? • 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 you try it: • Write 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 • 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 you try it: • Write 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 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 • 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: • 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? • 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 you try it. • Write 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 • 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 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 kroo-kroo-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. ~ ChimamandaNgoziAdichie, Purple Hibiscus
Imagery • 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 • 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 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 you try it: • Write 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.