Writing for the Ear
I just posted this up on my blog, and was looking for some feedback on what you thought of it! I appreciate any and all critiques and comments.
Ever hear of the phrase, "Writing for the Ear"? Maybe it's something you should think about!
Chance are, if you're involved with sound, or writing for speech, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Writing for the Ear is pretty much what it sounds like - writing that will be read out loud, designed for a listening audience rather than a reading audience. Different guidelines are followed. Why should this affect those of us who like to "Write for the Eye"? Because there are some excellent habits to be found!
A quick mention before we jump in - I work in radio, and write for radio, so most of this is based on my experiences in radio writing; however there's quite a bit of crossover when it comes to TV, and we're not dealing with pictures here anyways. That said, let's continue!
1) Start strong, then let the story unfold.
Writing for the Ear: This one is taken from news writing, where lead-sentence writing is practically considered an art form. The trick in news writing is to capture the essence of the whole story in that lead sentence, without revealing everything and keeping it short. Then, allow the story to unfold naturally, following the listener's train of thought, and withholding just enough information for a payoff at the end, whenever possible.
Writing for the Eye: Sound familiar? Your lead sentence, your lead paragraph and that whole first page set the tone for the entire novel. It's important to give your reader enough information to hook their attention then allow your story to unfold naturally, building up to your climax. Next time you're listening to a news story on your local talk station, or on the local TV news, consider how their lead sentence made you feel and whether it hooked your attention for the rest of the story.
2) Be specific with your nouns.
Writing for the Ear: Another one from news-writing! News reporters must use important details to help relate the story to their audience. That hotel where the fire is burning - it's not any hotel, it's the Super Comfy Inn where Janice's son works!
Writing for the Eye: Name your creations! Even if the Hero only stops in the village of Hill's Side for only a chapter, by creating a name and identity for that village, it fleshes out the realism of your story - chances are, by taking the time to create that name, you're also thinking of all the qualities that make up the name you picked, and it will colour your writing throughout that chapter. Every place has its own stories, and by creating "Hill's Side" rather than leaving it as "Village number two", you're allowing your reader to use their imagination to flesh it out in their own minds too. Next time you're listening to a news story about a place that you've never been to, imagine what it's like, what the inhabitants are like, and what kind of stories they would tell you if you could ask.
3) Use your words. This one is my favourite.
Writing for the Ear: When I'm writing a new commercial for a client, one of the first pieces of information established is how long that commercial needs to be. Usually, it's 30 seconds, which translates to about 80 words or so, depending on the pace. This means that I have only 80 words to establish my whole message, which can include the business name and tag, an address or phone number, the product(s) they're promoting, and/or any creativity that I want to add in. (Sound effects take up time too!) All for the sake of catching your attention long enough for you to consider what that business is trying to advertise. Every word is sacred, so there's a strong emphasis on action words that create an emotion all on their own, rather than description words that need a verb to cling to.
Writing for the Eye: Use this philosophy to take a look at your own prose. What is the pace like? Do you have any clingy description words mucking up the message that your action words are trying to create? What about phrases versus single words - like "would be able to" for "could". Take a scene and count how many words you used - most word processors, including Word, have this feature included. See if you can cut it down to about 2/3 that number, without losing any part of the message you're trying to convey. Give yourself a limit and stick to it! Then review your results. Compare what the pace was like before and after, and if your message is still clear.
Writing for the Ear is really about being conversational. It's about passing along your message in a clear and easy manner, because unlike articles, you usually only have one chance for your tuned in listener to understand what you're trying to say - nevermind getting their attention in the first place! Use Writing for the Ear for your writing. Instead of repeating yourself using too many words and not allowing your message to reach your reader, figure out what you want to say and just say it, then move on to your next message. You might find that your reader is very willing to follow along for the ride.
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