Diction: Choosing the Right Word for Your Character

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What Diction Is

Diction for fiction is the style of writing determined by a writer’s word choices. Words should

  • suit the story’s environment,
  • be appropriate to the writer’s audience, and
  • have meanings understood by readers.

Why Diction Is Important

  • The wrong word can take readers out of the story or cause them to misinterpret an intended message.
  • The right word can add to the story’s tone or mood.
  • Good word choices can show a character’s social status, background, education, where he’s from, and his personality.

Example:

Suppose the genre is “prairie” romance, which depicts life in the prairie states in the 1800s. The heroine is a common girl whose family moved west from West Virginia.

Karen attached the Arabian stallion to the buckboard, rending her satin sleeve. Oh great! One more task to do after dinner with a house full of lads gamboling in the cabin.

Analysis

The name Karen, one of the most popular names for girls born in the 1950s and 1960s, became common in English-speaking countries in the 1940s.

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Although General Ulysses S. Grant was given two Arabian stallions in 1877, they weren’t introduced to Americans until the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Common people couldn’t afford such a breed.

During the 1800s, most hardworking prairie women wore dresses made from calico or other lightweight material.

I consider the exclamation, Oh great! as a modern expression; it would’ve pulled me from the story.

Task is a good word, but chore refers to a household duty.

The word rending means to tear into two or more pieces. Tearing also means to make a cut, split, or hole in something.

Supper is less formal than dinner.

Lads is a British term.

The word gamboling may be unfamiliar to many readers. Some readers may think the lads were gambling.

image by almondbranch

Better Rewrite:

Bessie attached the mule to the buckboard, tearing her calico sleeve. Tarnation! One more chore for after supper with a cabin full of boys and their carryings-on.

 

 

Types of Diction    

  • Formal (presentations) “This evening’s banquet will be held in the ballroom. Formal attire please.”
  • Informal (every-day situations) “Dinner tonight will be at my house. Come casual.”
  • Colloquial (words particular to a country, area, city, or neighborhood) “Y’all come for supper. Sausage biscuits, gravy, and sweet tea. No need to gussie up.”
  • Slang (impolite or the latest fad words) “Eats at my digs. Later.”
  • Poetic versus prose (Any poets out there?)

Word choice also depends on whom the character addresses. He may speak differently to children, senior citizens, friends, bosses, spouses, parents, judges, pastors, and strangers.

Cautions for Diction

  • Changes in the style of word choices within the story can distract or confuse the reader.
  • When looking for a synonym to keep your writing fresh, be careful not to choose one that has a slightly different meaning than you intended.
  • Unless your character speaks in clichés, avoid these tired phrases.

Diction is a writer’s concern to make the best word choices for his works. Click to tweet.

Can you share a word or phrase that jarred you in a book you read?

10 Devices to Increase Your Story’s Pace

“Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the story events.” —Jessica Page Morrell

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We’d wince at these comments in reviews:

  • Too much description and explaining bogged down the story.
  • Everything happened too fast. Left me wanting to know more.

Jessica Page Morrell, in her September 2014 Writer’s Digest article, “Pacing Your Story,” discusses devices to produce faster- and slower-paced writing.

I’ll concentrate on keeping up the pace.

image by Stevebidmead
image by Stevebidmead

Why do we want to speed up the story?

Morrell says a story needs a fast pace throughout the book, but particularly in first chapters and in chapter and scene openings. She says:

“A quick pace is comfortable—never rushed, careless or contrived. You want the reader to be on edge and involved, not exasperated because things are happening so fast he can’t quite take it all in.”

 

Devices for accelerating the pace.

 This list and quotes are from Morell’s Writer’s Digest article “Pacing Your Story.”

Increase the Speed

1 Action Scenes, “few distractions, little description, and limited transitions”

2 Change, “plot dashes off in a new, unexpected direction”

3 Cliffhangers, “reader will turn the page to find out what happens next”

4 Dialogue, “rapid-fire,” “reactions, descriptions and attributions are minimal”

5 In Medias Res, “start some scenes in the middle of events”

6 Prolonged Outcomes, “the reader wants to know [outcome]”

7 Short Chapters and Scenes

8 Summary, no “play-by-play,” “summarize whole eras, … and backstory”

9 Word Choice, “crisp, punchy verbs,” verbs with “harsh consonant sounds”

10 Sentence Structure, short paragraphs; break up long paragraphs

image by kaboompics
image by kaboompics

 

Let’s examine a scene – the device number is noted where the pace moves along. (Partial scene from Calculated Risk)

 

 

 

     Cisney held her cell away from her mouth, so Daddy wouldn’t get an earful of her heavy breathing after she ran up two flights of stairs. [5]
     He spoke loudly as if he thought he had to yell all the way from Germany. [10]
     Her breathing and heartbeat refused to quiet, and it had nothing to do with physical activity. She’d have to tell Daddy the truth—tonight. [10]
     “We spoke so briefly on the phone before,” Daddy said, “I didn’t get a chance to ask you about your Thanksgiving.”
     “It must be about four in the morning there,” she said.
     “I couldn’t sleep. How’s my man, Jason?” [4]
     “I’m not at Jason’s.” And neither was Jason. The rat. [4, her reaction is short]
     “What? Where are you?” [4]
     “A friend from work invited me home for the holiday.” [4]
     “But why didn’t you go to Jason’s? Is he there with you?” [4]
     She hated ruining Daddy’s vacation. “Because…because he broke up with me.” She cringed [9] waiting for the blast.
     “Oh, Cis…” He sounded sympathetic. Maybe Daddy could understand that a man like Jason did pretty much what he wanted, and he wanted to date the beautiful blonde doormat. “What did you do, honey?”
     “I cried, mostly. I’m sorry, Daddy, I know how you feel about crying, but—”
     His volume ratcheted up a notch. “No, I mean, what did you do that made him leave?” [2]

10 Devices to keep your story moving. Click to tweet.

Which device will most improve your story’s pace?