Diction Imagery Details Language Syntax
Tone is the writer's attitude toward the subject and the audience. Understanding tone helps the reader to understand the writer’s message. In oral conversation, it’s easy to “read” tone. If Bob is red in the face as he screams and flails his arms, we will “read” his tone as angry. If Betty’s cheeks are blushing as she bats her eyes, lightly touches Bob’s arm, and smiles, we will read that tone as flirtatious. Emoticons convey tone with symbols: J is happy. L is sad. But emoticons don’t belong in school papers or in professionally published works of fiction or nonfiction. Therefore, writers must choose words and order sentences with precision and creativity.
DICTION…precise word choice with a particular connotation (spin) and charge (positive, negative, neutral). Writers use their strong vocabularies to choose words that describe specific and subtle attitudes. For example, notice how diction changes tone/attitude here:
· Laughter: the child giggles with glee, the witch cackles with evil, the class clown snickers at his sarcastic comment, and the best friends share an exuberant belly-laugh.
· Self-confidence: proud is likeable, but conceited, egotistical, or haughty is unlikable.
· Housing: the native’s primitive hut, the cowboy’s rural cabin, the homeless man’s cardboard shack, the happy family’s two-story bungalow, the aggressively driven lawyer’s
· Bill was unintelligent. (relatively neutral, as far as lack of intelligence goes)
· Bill was a zipper head. (less of a low IQ, more like someone who acts like an idiot)
IMAGERY … vivid word choice that helps the reader to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and experience the same as the author or characters. Pay attention to how the author describes people, events, objects, places, and experiences—even the weather. The kinds of images the writer chooses to describe also affects tone.
· Shocking: Smiling, the boy fell dead.
· Poignant: With the sweetest and faintest of smiles, the young boy looked at this mother and squeezed her hand. She was squeezing his hand still after he left this world and his leukemia behind.
· Relieved: Smirking—the boy bolted for the door spraying bullets around the room, hoping to kill anybody, everybody. An FBI sniper shot him dead, and cries let out from the horrified students.
DETAILS …facts that the writer carefully chooses to include or omit. Powerful writing is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say.
· An author who opposes the idea of war will probably describe a battlefield including a lot of details about the stench of rotting bodies, the burning cities, statistics on the civilian casualties, etc.
· However, an author who defends the idea of war will probably describe that same battlefield leaving out the horrific details and including details about the heroics of brave soldiers, the camaraderie of the field medics, the support of the people for whom we’re fighting, etc.
LANGUAGE …means two things:
· The overall use of dialogue, dialect, idioms, euphemisms, jargon, slang, etc. to give the reader an overall sense of tone. For example, an invitation to a wedding might use formal, poetic language, while a biology text would use scientific, clinical language.
· Figurative language: word choice that creates metaphors, similes, allusions, hyperbole, personification, etc. And then how these figurative language choices create tone or voice. It’s not just the fact that you thought to use personification but it’s also how creative and clever and “right on” the personification actually is.
SYNTAX…choices the writer makes in sentence structure and punctuation.
Pay attention to why your sentences start the way they do; why one sentence is long and flowing while the other is short and choppy; why one sentence gets right to the point (loose) while another delays important information until the end of the sentence (periodic).
· Parallelism: words, phrases, and even clauses that follow the same structure, creating connections between feelings and ideas.
· Sentence Variety: varying word order within sentences creates conversational rhythm and suspense.
· Sentence Length: Short sentences are punchy and intense. Long sentences are distancing, reflective and more abstract. Short sentences are often forceful, passionate or flippant, whereas longer sentences often suggest greater thought.