How then does one avoid repeated words and write fluent and beautiful prose? There are no easy answers to this question, but I do know of one activity that is particularly empowering: reading widely. I am not simply referring to reading books of commercial fiction in the genre that you happen to write in. I’m referring to reading classics, modern works, information books, and almost anything else worthwhile that you can think of. I’m referring to an author expanding their horizons.
The goal in writing is to communicate and to communicate well. Therefore, picking up numerous words that readers are not going to understand does not help your cause. However, reading widely will help you expand your useful vocabulary – the vocabulary that the majority of people do understand. You don’t need to necessarily make notes on the words that you find. You just need to make sure that you, as a writer, are continuing to feed on good books. Here are some tips that I have found useful over the years.
- Don’t read too much by the same author.
2. Don’t read books that are poorly written.
This does sound snobby, but if you’re an author, it’s better to avoid consistently reading books with low quality prose, simply so that you’re not always telling your brain “this is okay writing”. Read books of a high standard and calibre that are well-edited. For instance, while the storyline may be engaging, the Hunger Games, volume one, is a poorly written book from a purely grammatical point of view. From confusing sentence structure to comma abuse to the use of slashes when the author is struggling to describe something precisely, the Hunger Games is an example of many rules that an author simply shouldn’t break, for the sake of communicating clearly. Hence, making books like the Hunger Games the majority of your reading diet may actually be harmful to your writing style long term.
3. Read books that you don’t understand.
While Moby Dick or The Illiad might not be your first choice of reading material, they can help you grow as an author. Even if you don’t understand a book, simply by reading it, you are taking things in, recognising patterns of prose, and coming into contact with new words. In the same way that you learned the English language – by hearing words that you could not understand around you – so you can learn more about it, by reading books that are “hard”. The journey of exploration will be rewarding in the end.
4. Read books from different eras.
Those who read Victorian literature and only Victorian literature are still not well-read, even though they are consuming more difficult reads than your average reader. In my opinion, in order to be well-read, you need to read books about a variety of topics, by a variety of authors, from a variety of times and perspectives. You need to embrace the new, the challenging, and the foreign. This will improve your writing ability phenomenally.
Editing Tip for Fluency No #6: Feed on a variety of well-written books to increase your useful vocabulary and improve your writing style overall.