Increasing my vocabulary

Question: I am an aspiring writer, aged 14. I am working on my first romance story. I read the advice you gave about learning big words. I am not sure I have a wide array of vocabulary so do you think READING the DICTIONARY will help me to improve upon it?


Answer: Many people have used that method of vocabulary building. Certainly, there's no harm in it.

However, my feeling is that we remember new words better if we learn them in a meaningful context. For instance, if you read a poem or story that inspires you, look up the words you don't know and read the work again. The words will sink in better because your imagination and your emotions are engaged.

Another old practice that works well is to memorize poetry or even famous speeches. Then you are not only learning the words but the rhythm of language and how to construct effective sentences.

Acting in plays (if you like drama) helps too, because you have to memorize lines and recite them with feeling.

You could put all these things together by acting in a Shakespearean play. Shakespeare did more to shape modern English than any other writer. He invented many of the words we use today.

Of course, many words have been invented since Shakespeare's time, so reading more recent works is also a good idea.

Finally, remember too that an extensive vocabulary is not the be-all-end-all (as Shakespeare would say). Sometimes too many big words can sound pretentious. Many of the most beautiful poems ever written use very simple words. Simplicity can feel more grounded to the real world.

Also, bear in mind that you have to suit the vocabulary to your story. If your narrator is a simple person, simple words may be best. If he/she is sophisticated or scholarly, a bigger vocabulary may be more fitting.

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