The Elements of Voice:
Diction Imagery Syntax
Diction: Refers to the author’s choice of words. Words are the writer’s basic tools: They create color and texture of the written work. Words shape the reader’s perceptions. The reader must both “hear” the words and “feel” their effects. Diction reflects the writer’s vision and steers the reader’s thought.
Simple words are the bane of good writing—because creativity and voice creates a reading experience. A coat is not torn; it is tattered. The US Army does not want revenge; it is thirsting for revenge. The door does not shut; it thuds.
Appropriateness of Diction is determined by the norms of society.
Diction is the foundation of voice.
When studying Diction, one must understand the connotation (the meaning suggested by a word) and the denotation (the literal meaning). A word’s power to produce a strong reaction lies in the connotative meaning.
Imagery: The verbal representation of sensory experience. In literature all five senses are represented: visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory. Imagery depends on both Diction and Detail.
Good writers intermingle the senses—like giving smells a color.
Imagery contributes to voice by evoking vivid experience, conveying specific emotion, and suggesting a particular idea.
Traditionally Imagery typically has a history—a river, for example, is usually associated with life’s journey.
Syntax: Refers to the way words are arranged within a sentence. Syntax encompasses word order, sentence length, sentence focus, and punctuation.
English sentences—for the most part—follow a SVO pattern. Deviating from the unexpected word order can startle the reader and draw attention to the sentence. There are ways to change normal word order: Inverting subject and verb (Am I ever sorry!); Placing a complement at the beginning of a sentence (Hungry, without a doubt, he is); Placing an object in front of a verb (Sara I like—not Susan).
Another aspect of Syntax is sentence length. Sentence length is used to forestall boredom and control emphasis. A short sentence following a much longer sentence shifts the reader’s attention, and emphasizes the meaning of the short sentence. Many modern writers place key ideas in short sentences.
Sentence focus is achieved by syntactic tension, repetition, and punctuation.
Syntactic Tension is the withholding of syntactic closure (completion of grammatical structure) until the end of the sentence. These are called Periodic Sentences. The reader must wait until the end of the sentence to understand the meaning.
As long as we ignore our children and refuse to dedicate the necessary time and money to their care, we will fail to solve the problem of school violence.
Sentences that reach syntactical closure early (loose sentences) relieve tension and allow the reader to explore the rest of the sentence without urgency.
Repetition: Purposeful repetition of a word, phrase, or clause emphasizes the repeated structure and focuses the reader’s attention on its meaning.
The semicolon: Gives equal weight to two or more independent clauses in a sentence
The colon: Directs reader attention to the words that follow.
The dash: Marks a sudden change in thought or tone.
The Elements of Voice:
Detail: Includes facts, observations, and incidents used to develop a subject and impart voice. Detail creates a precise mental picture, and brings life and color to description—which focuses reader attention.
The use of detail influences readers’ views of the topic, the setting, the narrator, and the author. Detail shapes reader attitude by focusing attention—the more specific the detail, the greater the focus on the object(s) described.
By directing readers’ attention to particulars—detail connects abstraction to their lives: to specifics they can imagine, have participated in, or understand vicariously. As a result, readers can respond with conviction to the impact of the writer’s voice.
Detail can also state by understatement, by a specific lack of detail.
Good writers choose detail with care, selecting those details which add meaning and avoiding those that trivialize or detract.
Tone: Tone is the expression of attitude. It is the writer’s (or narrator’s) implied attitude toward her/his subject and audience.
The writer creates tone by selection (diction) and arrangement (syntax) of words.
Tone sets the relationship between the reader and the writer.
Tone is the hallmark of the writer’s personality.
Identifying and analyzing tone requires careful reading, sensitivity to diction and syntax, and understanding of detail selection and imagery.
Tone is as varied as human experience; and as with human experience, familiarity and thought pave the way to understanding.