05 Jan

I’ve been looking at ways to make my work-in-progress dark and sinister in a few choice spots. Turns out what I’m working on at school is helping me write my story by teaching denotations and connotations. I don’t remember studying this in middle or high school, at least in these terms. It might be because I was busy in my favorite English class looking at the captain of the basketball team, two rows over, and two seats up.

Denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word or the literal meaning of a word. Connotation is the emotional or cultural meaning attached to a word.

Example of Denotation: The words home, house, residence and dwelling all have the same denotation. The denotation is where a person lives at any given time.

Connotation: Home: cozy, loving, comfortable
House: the actual building or structure
Residence: cold, no feeling
Dwelling: primitive or basic surroundings

Word choice or diction usually brings about the mood and tone of a writer’s work. You can change the mood of a paragraph by using words with different connotations. Yet, people can disagree on meaning because different words hold different connotations depending on your life experience.

There are positive, neutral and negative categories. Notice that the following words basically mean the same thing, but the connation can be very different: Saving, tight, miserly, frugal, economical, careful, thrifty, penny-pinching, budget-minded, and penurious. Try splitting them up into positive, neutral and negative categories and you’ll see what I mean.

Here’s another example to put into categories: Steal, purloin, embezzle, filch, pilfer, burglarize, rob, holdup, snatch, grab, help oneself to, appropriate.

Further, I use denotation/connotation to teach students that there is a more positive way to describe a person. Slim, or slender, is a much better term than skinny, for example. Denotation/connotation is great for choosing the right words for a formal document as well. How do you make a formal complaint? These words might help create the mood: abhor, aversion, bother, detest, disgust, enmity, execration, grievance, gripe, hate, ill will, irritant, loath, dislike, no love lost, nuisance, objection, repulsion, resent, revulsion, scorn, spite.

Check out newspaper editorials, or your favorite book, to determine how the writer uses connotation to express his/her point.

Okay, I think I’ve got my “sinister” mood down, and I’m ready to work on a character next. My words are: shrewd, calculating, clever, sly, adroit, knowing, astute, cunning, skillful, smooth. Sounds like the makings of a great story to me.

Source: Ohio Department of Education


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14 responses to “IN THE MOOD

  1. johannaharness

    January 5, 2012 at 4:55 AM

    It does sound like the makings of a great story! 🙂

  2. Janis McCurry

    January 5, 2012 at 7:07 AM

    Words…the stuff that makes magic! Thanks, Mary.

    • Mary Vine

      January 5, 2012 at 1:25 PM

      Here’s to magic in our stories! Thanks, Janis.

  3. Liz Fredericks

    January 5, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    You’ve definitely kicked up the ‘sinister quotient’ with your prose. Nice job!

    • Mary Vine

      January 5, 2012 at 1:27 PM

      Yes, I’d like to capture about ten percent of Christine Feehan’s “dark” because she can really write it. Thanks, Liz.

  4. Meredith Conner

    January 5, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    I love blogs like this, they get me in the mood for writing! Thanks Mary!

  5. Mary Vine

    January 5, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Thanks, Meredith, that’s a nice compliment.

  6. ramblingsfromtheleft

    January 5, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    Mary, you make me want to get back to my WIP … a dark mystery. Yikes, the words sinister, thriller, bone chill or crazed sociopath come to mind. Thanks for a great post and it’s wonderful as usual to get my daily “fix” of Gem State Writers 🙂

  7. Mary Vine

    January 5, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    It’s a great thing to make someone want to get back to their WIP. Get at it! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  8. Lynn Mapp

    January 5, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    The right word sets the tone. Excelled blog. Thank you for reminding us of the power of words.

  9. Mary Vine

    January 5, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Thank you, Lynn.

  10. Clarissa Southwick

    January 8, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    Thanks for a wonderful post which really made me think about the precise words I choose.

  11. Peggy Staggs

    January 9, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    Word choice is so important. I anguish over the right words. In the end I hope it looks effortless.


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