Developing an ear for good language

Part of becoming a good writer is developing an ear for good syntax and rhythm. The way words are put together really does determine the effect they have on the reader. As with most things, a person who wants to get better at something finds ways to hang around those who are already the best in that particular field. The same is true with writing good literature. Arthur Plotnik, in his great little book, The Elements of Editing, puts it this way:

“A mastery of good syntax–how words are strung together well–can come in only two ways: by spending the first twenty-five years of one’s life in a drawing room with E. B. White, Vladimir Nabokov, Elizabeth Bowen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Saul Bellow, Eudora Welty, John Fowles, Langston Hughes, Joyce Carol Oates, James Baldwin, and John Updike–or by reading their works and those of other writers whose choice of words and word arrangement establishes our standards of literate communication.

“An ingrained ear for language comes from reading good literature and balances the domestic babble, street talk, advertising drivel, and work jargon ravaging our brains.”

If you want to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas to your reader, you must have an ability to use language. If you want to develop “an ingrained ear for language” take the time to read the greats, the literary standard-bearers of our day. Someway, somehow that appreciation for language and the power of words will rub off and begin to make a difference in the way you communicate the things that matter to you.


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