Erin's Poetry Tips

40 tips to poetry and poetry forums

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Diction

choose your weapons

Diction
1.Choice and use of words in speech or writing.
2.Degree of clarity and distinctness of pronunciation in speech or singing; enunciation.
3.The articulation of speech regarded from the point of view of its intelligibility to the audience
4.The manner in which something is expressed in words


The vocabulary and style of language you choose to use in a poem is just as important as the images and ideas. As a writer, you must decide whether to present your story in contemporary language, Shakespearian or Miltonian language, you can also choose to write in a stylized way, such as using slang, or different dialects and colloquialisms, to further the imagery within the poem. These choices are what formulate your diction.

Often, especially when writing the more formal, structured forms, such as sonnets and villanelles, you tend to revert to more formal, ‘flowery’ diction. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it’s how we were taught these forms were supposed to sound. In school we learned Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Milton, and those impressions of how poetry should look and sound are ingrained in us. (What your teachers probably didn’t teach you was that shortly after such fancy language usage became the norm, other writers began to argue that poetry should be more accessible to everyone.)
Secondly, that style of language tends to lend itself more easily to the structure of the many formal forms that were popular in that era. But who speaks in iambic pentameter nowadays?!

Realistically, poetry will always use more stylized language and word choices, even free verse isn’t completely natural because of the process of word selection, and the idea of compressing the imagery into fewer lines and words. But neither do you have to use thee’s or thou’s to write successful poetry.

As a modern poet, the best advice you can follow is to read more poetry. Include the classic poets, but also read more contemporary authors. To write well and be ‘with the times’ you must be aware of what’s being done in the modern marketplace, understand what’s going on in your field now.

With the knowledge of both the past and the present, you can form your own style and decide what works best for your writing in general or for one piece in particular.

Now, experiment.
Is your poem about a farmer? Once you get your initial piece on paper, try using different language. Try using more basic and simple language for the simple farmer, try using geographically specific language to depict the setting without saying outright where the subject is. You prefer to give the impression that your farmer is more upscale? Perhaps he’s a more modern day technically savvy sort of fellow – try describing certain things, such as the equipment or chemical fertilizers or what have you, in more technical terms generally only used by such a person. Maybe he’s a farmer who likes to play music – find ways to incorporate language that indicates both areas. Is he a 21st century farmer, or an 18th century farmer? You can tell your reader this with your word choices as well.

Play around, broaden your area of comfort in style and language. No one says you have to use any of these ideas in your final piece.

This isn’t dinner folks,play with your words!