Fiction Stories Expand Your Vocabulary and Your Mind

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by Michael Ugulini

There's no better way to build your English vocabulary than to read continually – and to read what you enjoy. We all love stories; they enlighten, entertain, inspire, and teach. In fact, they do all that, and build our reservoir of words too, without us even realizing they're doing so.

When you read a story, you are lost in another world. Your mind transports you to the book's place and time where you meet its characters. Some of those characters are so unique you are absorbed into their lives as much as the other characters in their sphere are.

As you read about their life, you take words, which the writer chose to put into his descriptions - and his characters mouths – and deposit them into your own mind. While you're enjoying the story, your sub-conscious is indexing words for later use. You may find you toss in some of these words in your own general conversations down the road. You may even surprise yourself with the words you bring up from the archive of your mind. In other words, you didn't know you knew what you knew.

When you read, your mind is constantly working. When you come across an unfamiliar word, you often stop and labour over it to decipher its meaning. You may even stop and pull out a dictionary to look the word's meaning up. Okay, some people do, not all of us. Most try to glean meaning from the phrases and sentences surrounding the unfamiliar word. The hope is these words will shed light on the new word's meaning.

Whatever you do, that's great. The thing is your mind is active. It's working and making associations so you can understand meanings. In doing so, you learn a new word. You then add this word to those archives locked away in the vaults of your mind. When it's fiction you're reading, the whole process is more fun. You're building your vocabulary doing something you enjoy. Your escape and entertainment outlet is paying vocabulary dividends as you go.

That's not it, though. Fiction reading expands your mind as it builds your vocabulary. That's because imaginative stories take your mind places it might not venture to on its own. A good writer will take you into worlds and scenarios unique to his or her mindset.

It doesn't matter what reading level you're at, there are a myriad of fiction stories out there for you to explore. In so doing you will expand your mind in these ways:

  • You will learn about people. You will learn to see life from a different perspective – from the viewpoint of a variety of different characters. You will walk in their shoes for as many miles as they do and see the world that surrounds them the way they do. You may not like what they see or do, but that will raise questions in your own mind and you will learn to contemplate and form your own thoughts and opinions on a subject. You are now broadening your capacity to think critically, abstractly, and constructively.

  • You will learn about places; places you may never have heard of before. This in itself makes stories and their characters more interesting – you get a story and a geography lesson all in one. Even if you know about a specific place or locale, you may learn something new about it. Again, your mind files this information for use later on.

  • You will learn about 'things'. Do you know what an Enfield Musketoon is? Neither did I, until I read about it in a piece on the Civil War. It's a type of rifle from the 1800s. Now I know what it is, and if I'm ever on a game show and this is the answer to an historical question that will win me a million dollars, I'm good as gold. If I don't make it onto a game show, maybe I'll use it as a pick-up line at a Civil War hip-hop dance.

  • You will learn different ideologies and belief systems. These will definitely raise and even provide answers to questions you may have. Reading about other peoples' moral underpinnings, and opinions will cause you to examine some of your own pre-conceived notions and beliefs. It doesn't mean you will change them all, or even any of them. However, you will at least take a fresh look at them, based on the different viewpoints you experience in a story.

  • You will learn about different cultures. Tolerance is born of understanding. A fictional story can tell us about a current culture or a culture from a long time ago. Learning about a culture within an imaginative story gives the writer license to portray the culture accurately while still giving us an intriguing story built around it. We learn about a people and their customs, and experience the free-flowing thoughts of the author's creative mind at the same time. Our knowledge of races and their traditions grows as does our own imaginative thoughts as relates to the actual story. You may find pre-conceived notions refuted, or further cemented as truth, depending on what you read in an imaginative creative story. Therefore, fiction, which isn't truth in the sense of factual portrayals of events, can illuminate truths.

Reading fiction to expand your vocabulary and your mind is one of the great productive pleasures in life. You're in the author's classroom so-to-speak, without even realizing the bell rang to begin class. Creative fiction makes learning like...well...not learning, at least not consciously anyway. You're too much a part of the story to think of anything else. All the while, your mind's hauling in words and other data like a tulle. Oh, sorry, I meant to say's another word I picked up in one of those fictional stories I just read. Speaking of fishnets...isn't there a story some Hemingway guy wrote somewhere... about an old man and the sea...

!Note here is a selection of short stories.