Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Story Element #7: Word Play

I'm so excited about today and not just because it's the Fourth of July.

Happy Fourth of July!!! I Love America!!!

Story Element #7 is word play, and word play makes reading and writing even more enjoyable. A great story will always be a great story. But good use of word play makes a great story a fabulous book! Word play helps add layers to the story - for children and parents. So what is this writing craft I call word play? It is the use of any number of literary devices such as metaphors, similes, puns, vivid verbs, synonyms, alliteration, assonance, consonance, vocabulary, and more. Need definitions? See below...

  1. simile - a comparison using like or as, often used in tall tales (She was as tall as an old Oak tree.)
  2. pun - a play on words, often like a joke, using a word that has more than one meaning (He was getting tired of running down the street and smelling car fumes. He said, "I'm exhausted!")
  3. vivid verbs - verbs that stand out and aren't boring or overused (Instead of saying: She walked to the store, say: She trudged to the store, or She ran to the store.)
  4. synonyms - a word meaning the same as another word, like ran, dashed, raced, etc. I group similar related words in this category too. (In a book about astronauts, you might use the following words: moon, shoot for the stars, the planets aligned, dazzling, sparkling, gleamed like a diamond, blue moon, translucent, waxing, venus, zoom, lunar, space, launch, the void in my head, speeding, etc.) RhymeZone is great for this!
  5. alliteration - the repetition of same sounds at the start of a sentence words: s, s, s, s (Lucky Lucy loves to lick lilac envelopes.)
  6. assonance - repeated vowel sounds in the middle of words such as vOWel and sOUnds (He dreamed each evening of weeks on the beach.)
  7. consonance - repetition of consonant sounds, not necessarily at the beginning of words (Sally loved to fly in airplanes because she liked how the wind flew through her hair and helped her feel like she was floating.) I know that's not a great sentence, but there are 10 instances of the letter "L".
  8. vocabulary - words that stretch a person's knowledge of language (like hoist, gleam, and fragment among thousands more)
Today's example is The Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael P. White. This is probably my favorite picture book of all. I first read it to my children when I checked it out from the library a few years ago. We've gotten it several times since. We all love it!

Title: The Library Dragon
Author: Carmen Agra Deedy
Illustrator: Michael P. White
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Year: 1994
Word Count: 983

This book is FILLED with LOTS of word play. Here we go...

From the newspaper ad before the book begins: 
  • "seeks a thick-skinned professional" (pun)
  • "a burning love of children" (pun)
  • "must be on fire with enthusiasm" (pun)
  • "no half-baked applicants need apply" (related words)
  • "call 555-S.E.A.R. (Sunrise Elementary Adores Reading)" (related words)
And here's one from the first page:
  • "The new librarian, Miss Lotta Scales, was a real dragon." (puns)
And the fun just keeps getting better (each bullet point is an actual quote):
  • library lair (related words aka 'related')
  • kept a fiery eye out (related)
  • made her hot under the collar (related)
  • an unfounded fear of dragons was positively inflammatory (pun)
  • pencil and claw sharpener (illustration)
  • got so fired up about this, she incinerated (vocabulary)
  • Caliente Jellypeno Beans (illustration)
  • "Where there's smoke, there's fire, and that Miss Scales is a real dragon, all right." (related)
  • PTA MEETING Topic: "Dragons Throughout History: The Myth, the Mystery" Speaker: Sir Whyte Knight (illustration)
  • they kept coming back singed (related)
  • If alarmed, pull tail (illustration)
  • Attention non-dragons NO smoking in the library (illustration)
  • his plan backfired (related)
  • Principal Lance Shields (illustration)
  • Instead of cooling her down, he just fanned the flames. (related)
  • "Oh really? And who does the firing?" asked Miss Scales with a glare and a flare that caught his tie on fire." (Okay, I'm not going to label these anymore, just enjoy!)
  • waved the smoke out of his face
  • "No smoking in the Library," Miss Lotta Scales said drily.
  • The principal fumed. The teachers were incensed.
  • their grades were going up in smoke
  • a trip to the cafeteria kitchen to fortify themselves
  • she smouldered (verb)
  • "shmorie-time," blew Miss Lotta Scales
  • threw down their weapons and clanged out
  • "Good Knight, Miss Lemon, you slay me," cracked Miss Scales. "Why the idea of storytime is simply medieval."
  • is a real spitfire
  • spewed so much smoke and fire
  • She was really draggin'
  • she was burned out
  • closed her scaly lids
  • Brickmeyer
  • on a quest
  • spread like wildfire 
  • Sunrise
  • her ears were burning
  • roared (verb)
  • scaly blur
  • cleared the smoke from her throat
  • scorched
  • warm
  • crackled
  • clickety-clack
  • little bit of a dragon
  • the end of our tale (pun, illustration)
See what I mean? You can't read this book and not love it, I tell you. It will simply set your heart on fire! 

If you missed previous posts from this Story Elements series, click below to read more.
Story Elements #1: Character
Story Elements #2: Conflict
Story Elements #3: Plot
Story Elements #4: Dialogue
Story Elements #5: Theme
Story Elements #6: Pacing
Next week: Story Elements #8: Patterns

What are some of your favorite books that use lots of word play? I may use some of them in future word play posts.

Keep on keepin' on... 


  1. Happy 4 th of July, Christie! I love that you use published books as examples. I'm going to look for THE LIBRARY DRAGON to study from. Haven't read this book yet.

  2. Happy 4th July and super post. I have to read that book now.

  3. So true. Not only does word play make for good reading, it makes writing much more fun.

    Hope you had a good 4th of July. :-)


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