What Is the Role of Diction in Literature?

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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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The role of diction in literature is to convey a certain mood, tone, and atmosphere through the author's choice of words. Selections of descriptive terms can significantly alter the readers' attitudes towards the subject matter in literature. This use of vocabulary can also convey a great deal about the writer's overall feelings towards his finished work. Diction can be formal or informal in style, and some types of prose can even combine both styles in varying degrees. A separate kind of diction is also common in poetry and is usually meant to create word patterns that are distinctive from written prose or spoken language.

An understanding of diction in literature is often considered an essential part of the communication process between the writer and reader. A variety of related words can have the same general meaning but very different connotations about the same idea. Word choice can quickly set the mood of a novel or poem as light-hearted, somber, or any other kind of feeling in between. Experienced writers usually recognize the importance of diction in the opening paragraphs or lines of their work, and it can sometimes be the deciding factor of whether a reader sticks to the writer's specific work or moves on to read something else entirely.


Mixing styles of vocabulary in the same literary work can sometimes be a challenging task. A combination of informal and formal diction can be effective in some stories with certain types of characters, but it can also detract from the overall writing in other cases. Some writers choose to strictly use one type of diction in literature that has been proven to correctly convey their specific subject matter. Others decide to experiment with a wide range of subject matter that requires changes in diction style.

Word choices for diction in literature can be general or specific when it comes to descriptive terms. Some writers prefer to stick to general and more neutral terms, while others like to add a good variety of descriptive vocabulary. Depending on the written topic at hand, some literary critics view the excessive use of adjectives as a problem with diction when the terms become a distraction from the rest of the prose. Overuse of slang terms can also be a common mistake among beginning writers, usually because only a narrow range of readers can relate to these kinds of words.


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Post 4

One other thing I wanted to mention about diction is that if a story has a foreign character or locale, it's a good idea to blend in an occasional word in that foreign language. This can be added to both dialogue and narrative to help establish the ambience and setting of the story.

Post 3

Another problem beginning writers often exhibit is the overuse of adverbs. Strong prose contains strong nouns and verbs. Adjectives and adverbs are effective in small doses, but either can be overused and make a piece of writing seem unnatural.

Post 2

@SimpleByte - I like a more informal style of writing, but different readers like different styles, even within the same genres.

Post 1

Diction establishes the writer's unique voice in a piece of fiction. Some writers have warm, folksy voices that are established through the use of simple words and slang while other writers have a more sophisticated voice established through a higher level of vocabulary and more sophisticated diction. Dialogue is the most effective way to blend diction in a story with less educated characters using simpler diction in their dialogue passages and more educated or sophisticated characters using more elevated vocabulary in their dialogue.

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