Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Reading Levels and Our Books
Seriously, there are many people who don't like to read. My own mom didn't like books until she was almost retirement age. Once she discovered the pleasure of novels, she regretted wasting so many years to dicover the joy derived from reading. She grew up on a farm where she started to school late each fall after the crops were harvested and had to stop school each spring when it was time to hoe weeds. That meant she was always behind and didn't read well and was embarrassed. The more she read, her language and comprehension skills grew. I suspect there are a lot of people like my mom out there. Maybe they dropped out of school or graduated but never excelled in English or Literature. Perhaps they associate reading books with unpleasant school memories. Let's win them over, shall we? I seriously hope we can.
That's why writers have to use language that takes into account the range of readers from the school drop out to the PhD. In one seminar at Romance Writers of America's National Conference in Denver years ago, Judith Stanton explained the Fleisch-Kincaid Scale and Readability Statistics available from Word's Tools section when one checks spelling and grammar. Ms. Stanton said that Nora Roberts writes at a fourth grade level. This is NOT an insult to the Great Nora! It means that someone in the fourth grade can pronounce and understand the meaning of each word--even if the reader does not understand the emotional impact of those words or the way they're used. Ms. Stanton recommended that everyone follow Nora Roberts' example and strive for an easily read popular novel. We all know that whatever Nora Roberts is doing works! Nora is one of my heroes (heroines?) so I have stuck with Ms. Stanton's advice.
Since taking Ms. Stanton's seminar, I always check the readability level of my writing. In addition to the grade level, she suggested an ease of readability not less than 80% and no sentences longer than fifteen words. Also, she thinks we should not have paragraphs over five sentences long. She said many readers skip longer paragraphs. I don't know about you, but I want readers to read every word of my books.
If you haven't found the Readability Scale on your software and you use Word, click on Tools and check Options. Then go to Spelling and Grammar and make certain the box near the bottom that says Readability is checked. I've found the Readability scale helpful for analyzing my writing as I go. It's one more tool (pardon the pun) to help me write the best book I can write.
Are there suggestions you'll share for making our books more readable?