1. HealSomeBabies
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    HealSomeBabies Member

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    Discuss readability

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by HealSomeBabies, Jun 5, 2014.

    What makes a story readable?

    Is it the sounds of words that flow together in a pleasant way? Or is it the ideas behind the words linked in a logical progression? Would you sacrifice one for the other?

    How important is it to eschew big words for simple words, long sentences for short sentences?

    How conscious are you of readability in your writing? I personally read out loud everything I write, so I can attempt to assess the readability.

    How much is readability linked with the tone and pace of a scene?

    You don't have to answer them all at once. Just something I've been thinking about
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    "Readability" depends on the reader, at least to a large degree. Like it or not, we cannot write for everybody. We all write for a specific audience - usually people like us. What I mean is, what I find readable might not be readable to someone else. I enjoy reading ambitious prose - writers like Joyce, Burgess, Matthiessen, McCarthy, and so on. These are writers who are using prose to convey effects beyond simply transmitting basic information.

    Others find writers like these difficult and tedious. (Difficult they sometimes are, but tedious? Almost never.) These readers prefer prose that's easy to read, prose that wouldn't challenge a twelve-year-old. That's fine, and thousands of successful writers write easy-to-read books. I tend to get bored by them, though.

    Like you, @HealSomeBabies, I read my own work aloud. If it sings to me, I know it's right. Some readers like it, too. Others tell me my sentences are too long, and all I can do is sigh.

    So before we can discuss "readability," we have to know who the audience is, I think. :)
     
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  3. WeWill77
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    WeWill77 Member

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    I think it's a combination of content and what I call the "music" of the writing. I'm a big fan of changing the rhythm of sentences to fit the message I'm trying to send. Form = function.
     
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  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think long words or short words are as important as the writer's ear for syllables. Take a word like hum - very short but it kinda drags on when you say it. If a writer just goes for short or long words without weighing that a short word could create more phonic problems than a snappier longer word, he/she could create hard-to-spot rhythm problems.

    Logic in writing is only key ( for me ) when you've said what you wanted to say in the way you've wanted to say it. I'd never sacrifice beauty for the sake of logic - for me they go hand in hand. Even a plain sentence has real majesty when your point has been made.

    I'm more conscious of flow. That for me is linked in with the pace of the scene and the transitions between the scenes which can be very difficult. Knowing the right moment to end a scene and start a new one takes real practice.
    I think true readability comes from confidence in voice or character. Master either or and I think all stories can be readable.
     
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  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Readability - a broad, vague and highly subjective term. Your specific questions strike me as if you might be looking for the treasure map to the secret buried readability. There isn't any.

    Could be either. Or neither. I'm not being flip. Different works strike me in different ways. Some of Shakespeare's work brings me to the edge of tears, just for the sheer beauty of the language. But some of his passages can't be considered beautiful, yet they are immortal for their profundity. ("Prick us, do we not bleed?...")

    I'm reminded of the scene in "Amadeus" in which the emperor complains to Mozart that his opera, Abduction from the Seraglio, has "too many notes". "There are only as many notes as I require," Mozzart argues, "neither more nor less." Same here. Hemingway reels off quick bursts of narrative and dialogue like rifle shots. Michener takes three pages to describe a tropical sunrise. Both are, to me, wonderful.

    When I'm actually writing? Hardly at all. When I'm editing is another story. But even then, I can only judge what will be readable to me.

    Partly. But I don't think you can confine the notion of readability to one or two aspects of the work. Can the reader be drawn in and emotionally invested in the character? Tone and pacing help, but they don't do the job alone.
     
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  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    As @minstrel mentioned, readability depends on the audience and their interests. But it goes beyond that. It also depends on the knowledge of the readers. James Joyce was an educated guy, which is why his novels contain a lot of allusions and puns that your average reader is going to miss (hell, even smart readers miss them). He expects his readers to be just as educated (or, at the very least, willing to do some research). For someone who doesn't fit this criterion, Joyce is going to be a nightmare to read and comprehend.

    Knowledge also includes familiarity with certain literary traditions. Someone who has only read pre-19th century novels is going to be baffled by some of the modernist writers; he won't be able to understand or appreciate certain things (stream of consciousness, for example). That's why I advocate reading from different genres and time periods.

    I never think of readability when I write because I know I'm writing for like-minded readers. Which makes my job a lot easier. My main concern is being understood and liked by people who have the same level of knowledge and interest in literature. For me, that's enough.
     
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  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    What makes a story readable?
    it's the choice of appropriate words that are arranged grammatically, in a way that makes sense to the reader...

    the reader can't know what the 'ideas behind the words' are... only the writer can know that... so readability depends on what the ideas the reader gains from reading the words...

    and i seriously doubt that good writers would choose between 'sound' and 'sense' because both are vital componentes of good writing...

    it's not an either/or choice for good writers... there's a place for both big and little words, long and short sentences... the key is to use them all correctly and appropriately...

    not at all, when writing... appropriately, when editing...

    the vast majority of readers don't read aloud, so i don't see that as a valid assessment of how 'readable' a piece of writing will be...

    that said, it's a good way for beginning writers to check the grammar/sense-making of a sentence and i frequently tell mentees and clients to read a problem passage out loud, if they can't see the flaws i've pointed out, or get why something needs to be 'fixed'...

    they could be relevant factors...

    both ed and thirdwind make valid points... i agree with them all...
     
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  8. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Readability, to me, means I don't have to keep rereading a paragraph to figure out what just happened. Or something's not full of spelling and grammar errors that trips me up.

    But, I do like a nice cadence in the sentence.
     
  9. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    “This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” - Garry Provost
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Nice quote, @HelloThere! Really makes the point! :)
     
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  11. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    That's a very good question and I'm often concerned about that too. If you notice, many readers like different authors. Sometimes I'll be so pumped about a book and trying to make my friends read it, and a few chapters in they say they don't like his style and can't get into it. And my reaction is :O!!! How??

    So I think it's different for everyone. No matter how readable you try to make your prose, someone will always prefer another writer. As long as YOURE happy with your work, then the rest shouldn't be as big of a concern (unless of course you are reaching for a particular audience, in which case you need to see what kind of books they like to read and try to imitate that writing style and diction).
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'five-word' or 'see spot run' type writing is just as 'readable' as any more complexly-sentenced work... the difference there isn't 'readability' as much as it is 'enjoyability'...

    my point?... 'creative writing' needs to be 'enjoyable' as well as 'readable'...
     
  13. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    +1
     
  14. HealSomeBabies
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    HealSomeBabies Member

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    I like this new dichotomy of readability and enjoyability.

    Can anyone write an enjoyable sentence that has terrible flow?
     

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