Diction: Choosing the Right Word for Your Character

image by stevepb

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.

image by artcats

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?