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Flesch-Kincaid: not a flesh eating monster but useful for your writing

But of course, this is not what it said and once I had adjusted the horror filter in my brain, realized the Flesch-Kincaid method is an interesting tool for writers. Let’s start with the basics: the Flesch-Kincaid method is a readability scoring method developed by Rudolf Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid in 1975.

Difficult doesn’t mean you have an audience full of village idiots; it simply recognizes that in most cases reading online text is different from reading print. Online we tend to scan more, so shorter words and sentences become even more important.”Ann Handley Everybody Writes

Maybe I watch too many zombie, post-apocalyptic-type shows, but the first time I saw “Flesch-Kincaid” in a book (Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes to be exact) I thought it said “Flesh”. Which naturally is a slippery slope to human-devouring monsters and visions of apocalyptic Georgia.

But of course, this is not what it said and once I had adjusted the horror filter in my brain, realized the Flesch-Kincaid method is an interesting tool for writers.

Let’s start with the basics: the Flesch-Kincaid method is a readability scoring method developed by Rudolf Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid in 1975. Flesch, an Austrian immigrant, was a HUGE proponent of using plain English (i.e., colloquial and informal words). And advocated for use of less technical language in highly regulated industries such as the Federal Trade Commission.

The Flesch-Kincaid method scores text on a scale of 0-100 with higher scores indicating a piece is easier to understand. Here’s a more exact breakdown:

  • 0-30 best understood by university graduate students
  • 60-70 understood by 13-15 year olds
  • 90-100 understood by the average 11-year-old

Side note—want to learn how to apply the Flesch-Kincaid method on your writing? Check out the guide for Microsoft Word users here.

Flesch advised that his scoring model accounts for how the human mind reads. With specific emphasis on successive points. Which in plain English, means that our brains make an indefinite verdict about a set of text up to a natural breaking point (punctuation, white space, new paragraph, etc.) and then pause at this point to make a final judgement. So the shorter the sentence or word, the easier to transition from indefinite verdict to final judgement.

At this point, you may be wondering what score you want your text to get. And like most things in life, it depends. It depends on your audience and medium. Writing for middle schoolers? Try getting close to 100. Writing a white paper? You can get by with something closer to 30.

Notice in that last sentence I said, you can get by. That’s because while your audience will most likely still comprehend the text, is it in your best interest to write overly complex material? Probably not. In general, the simpler and shorter your text the better the comprehension and retention rate. And what we all need as writers is writing that keeps readers reading.

Which is exactly where the Flesch-Kincaid method comes in. Using the scoring method as a general guide, you can see where your piece rates in readability. Rating pretty low on the scale? Try breaking up long sentences or using a thesaurus to swap out complex words. Use subheadings, lists, photos, and TONS of white space to make sentences easier to digest.

While there’s no substitute for editing your own writing and knowing your audience, the Flesch-Kincaid scale can be a good way to gauge if you’re going in the right direction. Because if there’s anything truly terrifying, it’s a sentence that’s difficult to read.

P.s., I’m thinking of writing a complementary post about how to use the Flesch-Kincaid method on other word processing systems. Is that something you would find helpful? Comment below or drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you!

coffee for every writing mood

Besides being notoriously boozy, writers also tend to be the queens and kings of caffeine. Here’s a coffee or coffee-like beverage for every writing mood.

Photo by Matt Steele on Unsplash

Besides being notoriously boozy, writers also tend to be the queens and kings of caffeine. Obviously I’m biased (see header photo) but I cannot espresso how much I love coffee. I love it a latte. (Okay that’s out of my system.)

Whether it’s the jolt of energy you get from the caffeine molecules or the ritual of sitting-down-to-write-with-a-cup-of-coffee, this delicious bean juice can fuel your creativity and sharpen your writing. Today, I’ve curated some coffee recommendations to go along with any writing mood so you can write on.

encroaching deadline

There’s no way around it–the deadline is looming and your editor, employer, readers are waiting for your next installment. Instead of regretting not going to dental school like your cousin, (cavities have to be easier than split infinitives right?), head to your kitchen or nearest coffee shop and get yourself an espresso stat. The short, punchy taste will give you the motivation you need without any wasted time.

Coffee recommendation: Café Bustelo

Brew method: espresso machine, percolator, or these cool handheld espresso pumps

stuck on a sentence

You’ve been staring at it for twenty minutes and it’s getting uglier by the second. That one sentence glaring at you from inside your latest piece. Taunting you with it’s strange structure, wrong-sounding words, or confusing intent. Instead of staring at it longer, turn to your local coffee shop or refrigerator for inspiration and cold brew. This chilled coffee is steeped for a long time to give you a strong yet smooth taste. The trip to the coffee shop/refrigerator coupled with a switch from hot to cold could give you the fresh perspective you need to rewrite that sentence.

Coffee recommendation: Cold brew with sweet cream

Brew method: You can make your own following this recipe or order one from your nearest coffee shop

no idea what I’m doing

Imposter syndrome–we all get it from time to time. Instead of focusing on what you think you can’t do, focus on using challenges as opportunities to get creative. Can’t get your protagonist to reconcile with their love interest? Work backwards from the reconciliation! Can’t find the write [sic] way to communicate a complex topic? See what other people are saying and consult your thesaurus! Also, take 5-10 minutes to brew a pot of strong black coffee to help clarify and inspire your intent.

Coffee recommendation: *Deadman’s Reach® by Raven’s Brew

Brew method: pour over, coffee machine, french press

editing is hard

Editing, like adulting, is hard. Stephen King likened it to killing your darlings (eek!). So go easy on yourself and grab a latte or mocha. The steamed milk, chocolate, or whipped cream will help cut the acidity and strength of the espresso. Giving you something delicious and soft. Because why make editing harder than it is? I’m a huge fan (and consumer) of the flat white. Which is like a latte but with less foam.

Coffee recommendation: Flat white

Brew method: You can make your own following this recipe or order one from your nearest coffee shop

I need to go to sleep tonight

It’s 10 p.m. and you’re a responsible person with morning responsibilities. You’re getting close to wrapping up this chapter, line, post, etc. and just need a little liquid encouragement. Instead of firing up the coffee machine, pop on your kettle and brew yourself a cuppa. The caffeine content is usually half the amount of coffee, so you get a jolt now while being able to sleep later.

Tea recommendation: jasmine loose leaf tea

Brew method: tea wand and electric kettle

*Deadman’s Reach® is a registered trademark of Raven’s Brew Coffee, Inc.

Are You For Real? Magical Realism

Style guide on how to use magical realism in your writing

Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

Definition

noun; A literary technique in which realistic narration is interwoven with elements of magic, fantasy, or surrealism.

Example

Prudencio Aguilar did not go away, nor did José Arcadio Buendía dare throw the spear. He never slept well after that. He was tormented by the immense desolation with which the dead man had looked at him through the rain, his deep nostalgia as he yearned for living people, the anxiety with which he searched through the house looking for some water with which to soak his esparto plug. “He must be suffering a great deal,” he said to Úrsula. “You can see that he’s so very lonely.” She was so moved that the next time she saw the dead man uncovering the pots on the stove she understood what he was looking for, and from then on she placed water jugs all about the house.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Màrquez

Pros vs Cons

This is a great technique if you’re looking to add surrealism or fantasy without placing your characters in a make-believe world. I.e., you’re trying to set your character in the real world while still incorporating a little magic. You’re not interested in creating a whole new world, society,etc. You just want something out of the ordinary. Culturally, this technique is prominent in Latin American and Caribbean literature where voodoo, curses, zombies, and lengthy sleeping sicknesses are interwoven into everyday routines and consciousnesses.

A drawback to this technique is that if not done properly, you could set up your character or story to be unreliable or too far fetched. (Of course, this is only a problem if you’re not intending to intimate that your character or story is unreliable or crazy.)

Tips

Magical realism takes a subtle hand. You can’t blow pixie dust in the face of your reader. You need to slowly incorporate it into their food until they build a tolerance and accept your magic. A great way to get your reader to accept your magic as ordinary, is to have your characters accept it. Gabriel García Màrquez is a master at this magical subtly. His characters accept magic and surrealism as part of their everyday. No one questions that a certain cousin was born with a pig’s tail. No one freaks out that the ghost of murdered cockfighter comes to haunt them. No one finds the plagues of insomnia an unexplainable medical condition. Everything is taken as a fact of life.

Another good example is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In which the protagonist ages backwards (i.e., as an infant he looks like an old man, and as an old man he looks like an infant). The story is written so convincingly that the search term “Benjamin Button Disease Real?” pops up automatically in Google. Write so convincingly that your readers will need Google to discern facts from fiction.

The Masters

The best way to learn anything is to study those who have perfected the skill. If you’re looking for inspiration or guidance, pick up one of these for your next read:

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude; Gabriel García Màrquez
  • Wide Sargasso Sea; Jean Rhys
  • The Kingdom of this World; Alejo Carpentier
  • Winter’s Tale; Mark Helprin
  • Beloved; Toni Morrison
  • Chocolat; Joanne Harris
  • St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves; Karen Russell