I want to learn to write fiction books (historical and science fiction) in American English. My native tongue is Russian and I speak fluently German, since I grew up in Austria.

My English is good enough for technical or business communication, but I can't express myself in English as colorful as in Russian.

In order to write fiction in English, I need (among other things) to master the language so good that I can "paint" pictures with it (i. e. make use of slang, idioms, have a feeling on how a particular sentence will affect the reader etc.).

I would highly appreciate, if you answered the following question.

What methods (apart from those given below) can I use to learn literary English (provided that I am willing to put lots of effort in this undertaking) so that I can express myself in written English as vividly as in written Russian?

Known methods:

  1. Read as much good English literature as possible.
  2. Read and practice "Elements of style".
  3. Re-read "On writing well".
  4. Watch lots of American movies.
  5. Read American newspapers.
  6. Memorize words from American slang dictionaries.

3 Answers 3


The only method that I can think of that you've missed off your list is practice. Write as much as you can and put it in front of native English speakers (especially Americans, since that's the dialect you're going for, but other native English speakers probably won't hurt either).

Interacting with native speakers can also help in general, so it might help to take part in American-dominated web forums (which will have the double benefit of giving you an audience for criticising your work). It's all very well memorising slang words, but you really have to see/hear them in context to use them properly.

  • 1
    Just to add my two bits: Joseph Conrad was not a native English speaker, but he went on and, through practice, wrote with a prose style so eloquent and unique that critics forgot he wasn't from England.
    – Mudly
    Nov 11, 2015 at 16:54

EvilSoup is right. If you've got English grammar and spelling down--the meat and potatoes of any language--then the next step is to practice it. 'Literary' American English is so wonderfully diverse! There's really no single style and it's constantly evolving. My suggestion? Don't try to "study" and "memorize" anything--talk to Americans, ask them about their lives, watch how they use language. Immerse yourself in the culture and you'll understand not just how they use words but why they use them the way they do. That will also help you take care of the other aspect of good fiction--real, fleshed-out characters.


Why not write your first book in the first person POV, with the narrator a Russian? You won't have to fake the Russian "accent." One good thing about Americans: we don't mind when our language is butchered. :-) Look at how successful Chekov was as a character on Star Trek.

So, you'd be writing in English (which would be good practice, no matter what) but maybe you'd also be getting something marketable out of it.

Here's your first book's opening:

"Please excuse my English. I am Russian. But we are in no hurry here." That was how I always began my interrogations -- with a joke. Then I would throw the switch. It is important to set the mood, right at the start.

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