|Writer's Day by tihmoller and Andre F. Muller on DeviantArt|
Revising your manuscript can seem like a ravenous dragon set loose in your fairy tale village.
Just ask Janie Lazo, Sandy Lowe, Kathleen Mazurowski, or Joy Acey, whose couplets were featured this week for Penny Parker Klostermann's DMC challenge.
From the belly of the dragon, Renée LaTulippe shares a revision tip that may save your manuscript's life.
Thanks as always, Renée, for sharing your insights on Today's Little Ditty!
Diction Is King: A Lyrical Language Revision Tip
by Renée M. LaTulippe
Today, in the last of the “lyrical language basics” posts, we’re going to take that a step further and talk about diction, aka word choice, and how you can punch up your text during revision. Does your text feel listless? Is it suffering from a general malaise? Then it probably needs a shot of poetry—in the form of specific diction—to get it on its feet again.
If you’ve been a writer for five minutes, you have no doubt heard that your choice of verbs can make or break your text. In a nutshell:
You can find a sea of information on verbs on the Internet, so I won't go into them in more detail—because verbs aren’t the only words that need a good shakedown during revision.
The right choice of adjectives and nouns can help you show your story and reveal your characters as well as any verb. The trick is to be specific and choose loaded words—that is, words that are loaded with image, tone, and emotion.
I like to do a little exercise with my students called “unwriting,” which is when I take a small section of a text and replace all the verbs, nouns, and adjectives with run-of-the-mill choices. This exercise helps illuminate the importance of diction and how the right words can do so much of our storytelling work for us.
Let’s look at this sample from a prose picture book, which I have unwritten and then put back together. Note how the choice of specific nouns and adjectives transforms the writing.
So what’s going on here? Let’s analyze it:
- There are no
adverbs in this passage. In the entire
book I found only about eight, but most are unobtrusive or interesting,
like generally, particularly,
- The name Wilfred creates a more specific image of the main character, whereas
the name Tom is neutral. Based on
the name and the other language in this short passage, how do you imagine
- The names Marcel and Rodrigo are specific and funny, especially for a moose. Mark and Robert are fine names
for everyday life, but if you’re going to get a moose, you might as well
give him a name with pizzazz. The names also fit the overall tone of the
book and the personality of the main character. Wilfred would not settle
for a moose named Mark.
- Look at the adjectives: dumbstruck, mistaken, only proper. What does this type of language reveal about the main
character? How do these choices reinforce the image you formed based
solely on his name? How much more weight does dumbstruck carry vs. surprised? How
are wrong and mistaken different in tone?
- The use of old
lady instead of woman reveals how Wilfred feels about
this intruder, this pretender to the affections of his moose. She’s not
just a lady, she’s an old lady
who was mistaken!
- Even in this short snippet you
can see that Jeffers opted for more elevated language than one usually finds in a picture book. Through his diction,
the author creates a main character who doesn’t get upset, but rather takes umbrage at perceived wrongs. This is a sophisticated MC with discerning
tastes and a well-defined personality.
- Other words and phrases that contribute to this tone include generally ignored, particularly poor, maintaining a certain proximity, terrible discovery, discussed their plans, ruled out…options, perilous situations, reached a compromise, and my favorite line in the book, Embarrassed and enraged, Wilfred rushed off for home.
This is Wilfred. He’s the one in the bowtie and suspenders. Is he anything like you imagined him?
|from THIS MOOSE BELONGS TO ME by Oliver Jeffers (click to enlarge)|
Give it a try!
Go through your manuscript and highlight, in two different colors, all your nouns and adjectives, and then analyze them. Are they the best, most specific choices you can make for your story and your characters?
In the next lyrical language post, we’ll look at the revision process via some before-and-after examples. Until then, happy writing!
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Copyright © 2015 Renée M. LaTulippe. This article is partially excerpted from lessons in the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry. All rights reserved.
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Would you like some more sneak peeks into The Lyrical Language Lab lessons? Check out Renée’s other posts on Today’s Little Ditty:
Sound Bites: Making Writing Musical
Mood, Effect, and Emotion: Sentence Transformation
What Dodo Birds Can Teach Is About Meter
An editor and writer, Renée LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a collection of poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new (Moonbeam Children’s Book Award) and has poems in several editions of The Poetry Friday Anthology. She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and blogs on children’s poetry at NoWaterRiver.com.
Reading to the Core for this week's Poetry Friday roundup.