How Diction Shapes Your Writing

Diction, along with tone, creates the style in which a written work is created. If tone reveals the writer’s attitude toward the writing, diction focuses on the choice of words that are employed, considering both the dictionary meanings and the implied meanings, which can be very different from each other and greatly affect the style. For example, the word “bad” denotes poor quality, but among some people, the connotation can mean something good, or “cool.”

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Diction Helps Determine the Tone of the Writing

In a letter to author George Bainton, Mark Twain noted the following about diction: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” The “almost right word” is the tiny glow of the lightning bug, but the “right word” is the lightning that can light up the entire night sky!

Diction can be formal or informal to varying degrees but must be appropriate to the context in which they are used. Formally, you could write, “She found herself feeling angry.” Informally, you might disclose, “She could feel the nape of her neck growing hot with sweat.” Going further to make a point, you could resort to slang, “She hissed, ‘I’m pissed!’” Each form carries its own diction and tone, which combine to help reveal the individual style of the writing and the mood of the characters.

Types of Diction

People choose their words depending on the settings and contexts in which they find themselves. These are the basic settings in which diction varies:
  • Formal: Words used in public or formal settings, such as presentations and job interviews
  • Informal: Words used in relaxed conversation with family and friends
  • Colloquial: Words used mainly in specific regions or communities
  • Slang: Very informal words, generally restricted to specific groups or contexts
The words the writer chooses help to convey a tone and mood that reveals the writer’s attitude about the story.

Examples of Diction

The following examples illustrate how diction helps create the style of a written work:
  • “But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” – “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain
  • “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” – “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” L. Frank Baum
  • “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” Oscar Wilde
  • “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland”
Each of these passages reveals a bit of the writer’s attitude about his or her work, along with the work’s overall style.

The type of diction you choose depends on the audience you want to reach, the attitude you wish to impart, and the message you try to convey.

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