The Dark Depths of Diction

WORD OF THE WEEK—Diction: dic·tion (noun) \ˈdik-shən\ : the clearness of a person’s speech; the way in which words are used in speech or writing. 

As a writer, I often wonder about my obligation to my readers in terms of the quality of my writing. Choosing just the right word for the right situation takes time and patience in your writing and editing. Sometimes a simple word will do. Sometimes the atmosphere or the speaker takes the story to a slightly elevated use of language that defines that moment or character. However, there is a point where you have to back off a little as a writer and remember that fiction is a beast that doesn’t always need to feed on overly sophisticated vocabulary.

The previous sentence, taken at face value, is completely true. But let’s examine what we are really saying:

There is no need for dictionaries or the learning of new words.


Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of words I’ve never heard, and I still learn new words from time to time. Some of them are ridiculously unrealistic to use in conversation or writing fiction. I would never do that to my readers. But a few slightly “bigger” words from time to time, some of which many will know and others that will need to be looked up. And that’s not a bad thing. E-readers often have built-in dictionaries (a feature I absolutely love and have to use more than occasionally). If not, the internet is usually right at your fingertips, either via phone, PC, tablet, etc.

That being said, reading should never be a chore. If the language is so lofty that you can’t even make sense of sentences, there is a problem. I believe the perfect balance is conversational vocabulary for most of the book, with a sprinkling of slightly bigger words that would actually benefit the reader to know. And that’s the key. Using words your reader will never ever need to know or use is pointless. But it never hurts to learn a few words to throw out when you need to impress someone.

As an English teacher, I can tell you that a large percentage of students in general lack even what we consider a basic vocabulary. I say this because it concerns and saddens me. Approximately 70% of cases where a child has an IQ below the average range is due to a lack of exposure to vocabulary, not birth defects or trauma. Read that sentence again. Vocabulary is one of the single most important aspects of education (at any age). I say all of this because I want to see more children reading. Reading is what develops vocabulary more than anything else. If you have children, read to them. And encourage them to continue. The students I see that love to read at this age have been reading at home continuously since they were little. The ones who don’t like to read are the ones who haven’t been reading. That is the only difference. There is no innate reason for one person to enjoy reading and another hate it. Some people may enjoy it more than others, but any child is capable of at least liking to read if they have continuous exposure to reading material that matches their interests.

Vocabulary affects intelligence. Reading affects vocabulary.

I have decided to steal a fantastic idea from another blogger (with permission, of course): a word of the week for each blog post. It might be a word you know, or you might learn something new. Note the word this week: diction (think “dictionary” and  your high school English classes more than likely). I felt this was an appropriate word for this week’s rant—I mean post.

I do not use words lightly. When I use smaller words, which is the majority of the time, I take into account who is speaking and what the situation calls for in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. When I use more sophisticated diction, I have made a conscious choice to do so. That doesn’t mean that the choice is always the best, but it is the right choice for the story at the time.

<— after you’ve read the book, that last sentence will rock your socks off…you’ll understand then…

Of course, I can’t have a blog post the day before my official Book Launch Day without mentioning how excited I am for tomorrow (Feb. 25th). I do hope some of you can drop in online at some point during the day tomorrow at one or more of my websites to say hello, buy a book, ask questions, whatever you like. I’ll be around on all my sites from 9 AM until 7 PM EST.

See you there!

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