If you write commercial fiction or hope to, you probably want to make your novel a page turner. Plot is a big part of that. But making it a fast read is also about how easy it is to comprehend the words you write.
Of Sentences And Syllables
The Flesch-Kincaid index estimates the level of education needed to read a piece of writing.
The calculation is based on the average number of words in each sentence and the average number of syllables in each word.
Many bestselling authors write books at the fourth grade level. As did Ernest Hemingway.
Why Write Below High School Level
If you want people to read fast, writing in a way that's easier to understand helps. Compare the amount of effort and time it takes to read a scholarly article or college textbook chapter to a non-fiction book on the best seller list about the same topic.
Which are you more likely to read for fun? Or for information for that matter?
Writing below high school level (and perhaps at a sixth grade or fourth grade level) also helps ensure your novel will be read it at all. And finished.
If you hand someone 60,000-100,000 words and the first page takes a lot of effort to read, many people won’t continue. If your reader flies through page one, though, and there’s a story hook, it’s easy to flip the page or hit the button for page two.
Also, as readers go on in the book, they’re bound to hit points where they feel tired. Or to have days when they return home exhausted.
If your novel takes a lot of mental focus, they’ll be less likely to pick it up in the first place. They’ll also be more likely to put it down in the middle.
Calculating Reading Ease
This article explains the specific formula if you’d like to manually calculate the grade level of your work. Some word processing programs will figure it out for you. In Microsoft Word, it’s part of the information you get after you do a Spelling and Grammar check.
Some blog platforms, including Word Press, which I'm using to write this post, provide a readability analysis and tips.
You can also do an Internet search for online reading level and reading ease calculators.
Writing at a too-basic level can backfire. Most of us don’t want to read See Spot run. It’s boring and distracting.
But writing that’s easy to read doesn’t need to be dull. Or limit itself to three-word sentences, one-syllable words, or generic plot lines. The Grapes Of Wrath is at a 4.1 grade level. To Kill A Mockingbird scores 5.9.
Also, preferences vary from person to person and during a person’s lifetime. I sometimes like reading something a little more complex because it takes me longer. The downside of wading through dense case law in law school and in my law practice is that sometimes I fly through novels far too quickly. I want to savor them, not gulp them whole.
Other times I want a book that takes little or no effort and pulls me along. That’s especially so if I’m working through issues in a novel I’m writing.
At those times my brain tends to go into analytic mode when I read unless the book is so fast-moving it sweeps me away.
Look at your favorite books or a group of popular books in the genre in which you write. You can do a formal calculation or eyeball the sentence and word length.
Once you’ve done that, you can get a sense of where you’d like your work to be.
By the way, this article scores a 6.7 grade level.
That’s all for today. Until next Friday—
P.S. Looking for help with your plot? Try out the Free Super Simple Story Structure worksheets.