“Writing for the Ear”
There’s a big difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear.
In school, our teachers rewarded long, complex sentences with multiple commas and parenthetical clauses that showed we have mastered the basic rules of grammar, spelling and syntax while exhibiting critical thought, nuanced arguments and SAT-level vocabulary. Great writing, we have been taught, is meant to be read – silently.
The problem is, when audiences are listening to material, they don’t have the luxury of scanning back up the page if they get lost. Add to that, our writing needs to become far more conversational and less formal when written for the ear, and you have a real challenge!
Guidelines for writing for the ear:
- Opt for short, punchy sentences with simple structure – listeners cant scan back up the page if they get lost and rarely will they hit “rewind”. Remember that the reader needs to breathe and smaller sentences will help them greatly!
- Use the active voice when writing as it is far more engaging to the listener.
- Always try to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
- Use an informal, conversational, style with contractions and informal wording – don’t use a $10 word when a nickel will do.
- Always have a clear structure – beginning, middle and end – and a “hook” that grabs their attention in the beginning section. Aim to hook the reader in the first 200 words.
- Make names and places distinct – avoid using names that sound similar – also be clear which characters are involved in a given section of prose.
- Every word is precious – generally account for reading at a pace of 100 words a minute (that’s only 50 words every 30 seconds). You don’t have much to work with so be succinct, remove unnecessary details and stay on plot. Be sure to “hook” the reader in the first 2 minutes, that is, the first 200 words.
- If you must use facts, figures and quotations, summarize and simplify. Its far better to say “around 11 million” than “eleven million, three hundred and eighteen thousand, four hundred and thirty one.”
- When in doubt, simply try reading the piece out loud yourself, the rough spots ought to become clear!
The mission this month is to write for the ear – either take something you already have and adapt it, or write something new. Pieces will be read aloud next time we meet!