Wednesday, October 20, 2010

LITERARY TERMS: A Writer's Choice

For the last few Wednesdays, my fellow team bloggers—Jessie and AE—have explored some of the different terminology associated with the writing world. We’ve discovered the true meaning of genres such as Steampunk, Edgy, and Rom-Com. We’ve also learned there is a difference between beta reader and critique partner. For those who missed them, you can explore them on our new INDUSTRY TERMS PAGE. I’ve decided to jump on their bandwagon and explore LITERARY TERMS in writing.
(image borrowed from deviantART)
We all write. It’s what we do. But how? To be a successful writer, one must know the nuts and bolts, and literary tools available and then gain understanding of their usage. Let’s explore the difference between Syntax and Diction. Next time I’m up for Wednesday, we’ll move onto Mood and Tone.

Diction is the choice of using a particular word over another to communicate ideas, feelings, and settings. It also contributes to a writer’s style and tone. Using the subject book, for instance, in a passage could elicit a range of reactions from the reader depending on the word chosen to represent book. Paperback, magazine, tome, edition, and even literary archival (yes, that’s extreme yet possible) could be used. The reader is now faced with questions. Why that word? What is it saying about the story, character, or setting that I’m reading? The writer must choose the correct word to covey his/her meaning and contribute to the overall story.

This plays into what is called concrete and abstract diction, which has also been referred to as high/formal and low/informal diction. As you might have already surmised from the latter terms, high/formal diction lends great detail to sophisticated or technical vocabulary and proper grammar. Low/informal diction concentrates on slang or everyday usage. It allows for a more relaxed and conversational feel, and for grammatical slip-ups. All this conveys meaning, setting mood and tone and exercising style.

Syntax is the arrangement of words in a sentence to communicate ideas, feelings, and settings. Basically, it’s the management of words to create a sentence. We all know sentences can be simple and complex. Syntax is a writer’s ability to arrange simple words into phrases and clauses, and then mix and match those in a sequential unit. This leaves a writer a minion of choices and sometimes a dilemma. Poor ordering of phrases and clauses can change the intended meaning and confuse the reader.

Just as with diction, syntax is important to mood, tone, and flow. (Flow – the rhythm of words and Content – the actual meaning of words is for another discussion.) Standard English teaches us to order sentences in a Subject-Verb agreement, and mostly with a latched on Object. This, however, can be tweaked within some genres—poetry, for instance—for the writer to achieve Flow or to exercise his/her creative license.

Simply put: Diction is word choice and Syntax is the arrangement of those words.


  1. Oh, I love the free learning I'm getting here. Keep it coming :-D

  2. This is a fantastic post! Thanks!

  3. Thanks for that clarification. I've tended to lump syntax into diction when talking about writing dialect, but you're right that they are distinct categories that each deserve attention.

  4. Thanks, Sheri! That was a good reminder and great explanation! Glad I found this blog!

  5. Awesome post, Sheri. Now I guess I've got to ramp up my own Wed. posts. Huh?

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