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.
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