Blog 0021 – Diction

Update: I took December off from WordPress and find myself fairly neutral at the prospect of returning, neither looking forward to it nor disliking the idea. With that, posts might continue, but will focus on writing topics and themes solely, if so.

Now, for that diction post…


Things can happen so quickly, change so easily.

Sometimes, all it takes is a pivot in perspective, a step over that line, a flip off the diving board of literary technique. Diction, as an author, is a worthy tool to cause shifts of emotion and perspective in readers.

What is Diction? In general, diction is the choice of vocabulary the author presents to the audience. From abstract to concrete, general to specific, denotation to connotation, and literal to metaphorical, even attributes like density and length can draw in or disconnect the reader from the story.

No matter what decisions we make or why, these choices result in consequences that we are accountable for as the creator.

This is especially true for the artistic writer. Choice of vocabulary, diction, is so insidious that it is commonly taken for granted, but conscious writers should contemplate diction every time a piece is crafted to be read by others. Vocabulary in dialogue and narration can make all the difference from a reader becoming engaged, to being turned away.

The english language isn’t necessarily easy to grasp, there are many paradoxes and inconsistent rules, especially pertaining to literature. Within such frequent controversy, choice of words have a role, as well as the placement of those words. When it comes to writing, context is everything and yet, nothing at the same time.

Writers are pushed to make sentences fit in the flow of narrative context – yet also, if pulled from the story, will still be an understandable and appropriate phrasing that means something to the reader. Possibly, this is what Tight Prose means; when the narrative flow is simultaneously successful with sentence/paragraph construction.

Connotation has a place in diction, if only because words have a place in vocabulary.

It’s not about choosing the least used word or the most known word, it’s a matter of discernment and balance to create the most flowing vocabulary as possible for the intended audience.

Whether advanced vocabulary or mundane vocabulary, there is always a way to make it work. If using big-concept words that are above a certain reading level, a simple way to make the story flow for readers with lower reading levels is to make the context absolutely obvious. Context can also be used to progress the experience of the reader, encasing them in a sort of story bubble that surrounds them, so that no matter where they look, something is being referenced. Pratchett does this well in which a detail explained in an earlier section of the book (or series) will be used in a later section, but the later section would hardly be understood fully if it wasn’t for the initial context set by the author. Many humor-moments and small jokes are set up in this way, it also makes for re-readable stories.

Diction is considered a part of a writer’s style. In a style-geared book I read last year, the author suggested being hyper-aware of the first and last words of your sentences. Which words you choose to share with the reader will be influenced by position and placement around other words. There is merit to understanding the intended audience so well that you might know how they tend to read; perhaps, the tail-ends of sentences or focus on the middle of them, if they like long paragraphs or short, fleeting ones.

Here’s a link demonstrating a way to analyze style and encouraging thinking aloud.

Happy New Year!

Dominika (January 2)