Have you ever read a book and not understood what the characters were saying? Or worse, have you ever misunderstood what the author was trying to say? If so, you know how important diction is. Diction is one of the most important aspects of writing that you should always pay attention to. In this post, we’ll talk about why clear diction is important and how you can improve your own writing by improving your diction.
What Is Diction?
Diction is an important part of the craft of writing, public speaking, or singing, and it’s a different meaning in each context, but they all have a common goal – to help convey meaning.
In speaking, singing, and acting, diction usually refers to the clarity of speech. Writing, on the other hand, is about word choice to accurately convey the meaning and authenticity of a character or your voice or message as an author.
You can think of diction in writing as the style of a text. Diction can also refer to the general style of a writer or poet.
An author or writer can write in a variety of styles and genres, with stories set in places all over the world, from the Old West to the future. Each of these styles has its own diction.
For example, a text may be formal or informal. The author may also use simple words or sophisticated words that are harder to define and therefore not used often.
How Good Diction Can Help (And Hurt) Your Text
Diction helps the author (and the reader!) with:
- Characters and attitudes
Using words that don’t fit the message you want to convey in terms of diction can have a profound impact on how the message comes across.
There’s a heavy cost to poor diction in writing!
If you use a word that’s too “big” for the message or situation, you can confuse the reader or listener or even make them laugh. On the other hand, if you use words that are too “small,” the message may be lost or misunderstood.
When you write, you must be sure that your text accurately reflects what you want to say. Your text should clearly express your intention at every point.
Diction With Characters
You can use diction to effectively portray a character to the reader. There’s a lot that goes into creating a character. They need to have their own voice and style, but they also need to say the right things, act and sound the way they should.
You want to make sure that the characters in your writing are a “true” representation of the people you’re trying to portray. In the sense that they’re saying the words they’d use themselves and that are appropriate for what they’re saying in that particular time and place.
When you write dialog, the words your characters speak should also accurately reflect their personalities and attitudes.
Factors for Good Writing
From a technical perspective, there are three basic components to good writing:
1. Word choice (vocabulary and diction)
To get the most out of your words, you need to choose the right words that really express what you want to say. Whether you’re writing a poem, an essay, or a novel, you must take the time to choose the right words to say what you want to say. That’s why good writers often enjoy word games – they’re a fun way to expand your vocabulary and use words correctly.
2. Sentence structure (syntax)
When you put words together in a sentence, the structure of the sentence is one of the first things the reader notices. If you use the right structure, you can make your text more concise, but still clear and easy to read.
One of the characteristics of a good writer is punctuation. Punctuation and grammar can make or break a text. If you use it incorrectly, you can confuse the reader or cause them to stop reading. If used correctly, it can help the reader understand your text, even if the word choice isn’t as precise as it could be.
Diction comes into its own when your thoughts and your writing are expressed in a way that’s precise, contextual, and easy to understand. If you take the time to use the right words, your text will be free of unnecessary clutter and you can focus on your message instead of wasting your time on how to convey a simple thought.
How Accurate Diction Can Strengthen a Story
When you’re writing a story, you need to make sure it’s told in the right way. You want readers to understand what’s happening and why it happened. When you add accurate diction to your text, the story becomes clearer, easier to read, and more enjoyable for the reader.
Diction is important to balance the story, provide context, and let the reader know what’s going on.
The Connection Between Diction and Dialect
I live in the southwest of the UK, where some of the locals have very strong accents and use words that are typical of the region.
For example, “scrumpy” is home-brewed cider, and “skittles” is a form of indoor bowling – usually played in pubs, with lots of fun and uneven bowling lanes!
If you were writing a farmer or farmer’s wife from this part of the world, you wouldn’t necessarily have to reproduce every nuance of their accent, but you’d have to know their dialect or way of speaking. You wouldn’t want them to come across as an Oxford don! An educated person will speak differently than an uneducated person.
If you wrote a book set in the U.S. but the characters spoke as if they were from the U.K., it would be very confusing for the reader.
Also, the way a character speaks can say a lot about their personality.
Diction Depending on the Setting
A speech by a president isn’t written in the same diction as when a teacher speaks to a class.
It’ll likely be much more formally and inspirationally worded, with a very specific vocabulary and manner of speaking to convey the right meaning and message.
In contrast, a speech to a class will likely have much more relaxed, conversational diction. The teacher isn’t likely to use big, formal words that might make her students uncomfortable.
At the same time, they’re unlikely to use slang or casual language that might make them seem unprofessional or less intelligent.
The Best Way to Improve Your Diction
The best advice I can give you is to read a lot and extensively. Not only will this help you improve your vocabulary and your ability to form a sentence, but you’ll also be able to see how others use words.
So you can see how they use the right words at the right time and how they build their sentences to convey the meaning correctly.
When you’re learning to read, it’s important to slow down and pay attention to how the author builds their sentences and words to get their message across.
I suggest taking a handful of diametrically opposed writing styles – for example, the King James Bible, a Harry Potter novel, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Also get a few works of classic literature, for example, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Once you’ve read these works and studied the diction and sentence structure, you’ll have a good idea of how different authors expressed their stories and themes in diction.
Types of Diction
Sometimes you’ll come across different terms for diction in literature and writing.
Formal diction is used by people who’re highly educated, such as academics or people at the management level. Anything written by an academic is usually written in formal diction and is known as academic writing. Formal diction is used in formal speeches or when writing for a professional audience.
Informal diction is used casually and conversationally and is often considered more natural. Informal diction is also used when you’re writing for a general audience, such as when writing emails and letters.
Colloquial is the most informal form of English. It’s used by teenagers and young adults and is often considered unsuitable for use in formal writing, not least because it’s not understood by everyone. Slang usually comes from a particular area or group and is used by members of that group. It consists of short, easy-to-remember words that replace long, harder-to-remember or pronounce words.
Pedantic diction means that an author intentionally tries to show off with their word choice. It’s often associated with academics who like to use extremely long words when a short word would suffice. Pedantic language is used in formal texts and speeches and is often considered pretentious. You don’t want to be known as a “pedant”!
Colloquial diction is used by writers who want to strike an entertaining tone in their texts. It’s often used in fiction and creative writing to add a sense of realism to the story. It can also be used in formal writing and speeches, but only if the writer is aiming for a conversational tone. Colloquial diction often uses the dialect of the time and place in which the story is set and is informal, casual, and conversational. It’s considered the most natural form of speech in English. It’s the kind of diction you’d use in everyday speech.
Abstract diction is used to describe abstract concepts, ideas, and places. It’s used in science and philosophy to describe intangible concepts. It’s also used in literature and creative writing to describe emotions and feelings and things that cannot be touched or seen. Abstract diction is often difficult to understand and can be hard to grasp. Abstract diction is used in formal writing and speeches.
Poetic diction is used in poetry and prose to describe things that aren’t normally described in everyday speech. It’s highly descriptive and often uses metaphors and imagery to convey a feeling or picture. Poetic diction is often metaphorical, uses unusual words, and is usually written in verse. Poetic diction is considered the most descriptive diction in the English language and can be difficult to understand.
How Diction Affects the Theme of a Story
In a story, theme is the central idea that’s explored. It’s not always stated explicitly and can be implicit. The theme is often a concept or message.
It’s expressed through the action and characters in the story. It’s seen in the events of the plot, in the way the author tells the story, and in the thoughts, actions, and words of the characters.
Diction plays a major role in expressing the theme because it’s usually the language of the characters and specific words used by them that allows an author to portray the theme most effectively.
For example, when dealing with a character who’s in a moral dilemma, the author needs to show the reader what the character is going through and how he or she feels. This is often done through the character’s words, showing the reader what they’re thinking and feeling about what’s happening.
How Diction Affects Mood
In a text, the mood is the feeling or atmosphere the reader gets. It’s created by the words used, sentence structure, and diction.
The author’s choice of words affects mood by using words that have a positive, negative, or neutral effect. For example, if you want to create a cheerful mood and put the reader in a good mood, you might use a casual, relaxed, and entertaining style of speech.
On the other hand, if you want to create a tense and exciting atmosphere, you could use formal diction full of metaphors and imagery and use very specific vocabulary that helps set the scene.