Words have meaning. Sounds obvious, right? Right. That’s why it’s important to choose our words carefully. That is, that we use correct diction.
It’s fine to go ahead and whip out our first drafts. They’ll be trite, maybe even cliché-ridden, and certainly amateurish. After this, though, approach our words like a professional. Professionals revise, revise, revise till their diction is as accurate as they can make it.
When we look at our manuscript, is each word precise? Can we find better words to express our thoughts? Spend time pondering our words, searching for ways to say what we mean with greater clarity.
Though we writers should develop a habit of building our vocabulary, we should also consult a thesaurus whenever necessary. Unfortunately, when most folks use a thesaurus, they simply look up any ole synonym to put on paper. This is a mistake.
Since every synonym possesses its own nuance of meaning we can’t use just any word. Research each synonym’s definition. Once we find one that means what we mean, use it in our manuscript.
Diction also affects our writing’s tone. By carefully selecting our words, we can convey whatever atmosphere we want. To illustrate, I’ll write a birthday party scene. Through diction, I’ll first paint it as a happy scene, and then I’ll portray it as an angry event.
Hugging the birthday present she’d purchased close to her chest, Mary practically skipped toward the laughter behind her friend Becky’s house. Soon as she passed through Becky’s patio gate, a dozen smiles greeted her.
“Sorry I’m late.” Mary set the present on a picnic table and flashed a grin. “My car got hungry so I had to stop to feed it. Happy birthday, friend.”
Becky grasped her hand and patted it. “Thank you, dear.”
Mary scanned the balloons attached to Becky’s white picket fence. They danced in the wind like colorful ballerinas, bobbing and swaying and twirling on their long strings. A coconut cake sat on the table. Thirty pink candles circled its perimeter. Hard to believe Becky had turned thirty. Mary chuckled. “Well, Becka, looks like you’ll be drawing social security soon.”
Becky burst into laughter, accompanied by their friends’ giggles.
Mary knew she was no Carol Burnette, but she did know she had some good one-liners every now and then. Making people laugh gave her pleasure.
Clutching the birthday present she’d wasted her last dime on, Mary stomped toward the cackling behind her friend Becky’s house. Soon as she shoved her way through the patio’s gate, a dozen smiles irritated her.
“Quit showing me your teeth, y’all. It ain’t funny. I know I’m late again.” Mary slammed her gift on the picnic table. “My stupid ole wreck of a car needed gas.”
Becky grasped her hand and patted it. “That’s all right, dear. We’re all glad you could come.”
Mary scowled at the balloons bound to Becky’s white picket fence, jerking and twisting on their long strings as though trying to escape their shackles. A coconut cake sat on the table. Thirty black candles stood around its perimeter like bars in a jail cell. Becky tuned thirty today. Tomorrow, they’d all be old maids drawing social security. Growing old, and alone was no fun.
Though I didn’t change the details in each scene, I did change the words as well as the dialogue. Each tone was conveyed through diction: word choices in action, dialogue, and how the point-of-view character, Mary, viewed the party’s details such as the balloons and the cake’s candles.
Till next week, everyone. Keep on writing!