Writing for the Ear

We’ve all heard inspiring speeches or engrossing stories. There’s nothing like listening to a good story. Every culture in the world has a rich oral history. The challenge facing writers is how to capture that feeling in their own writings. When heard, words have less value than in print, which exacerbates the challenge. A monotone performance can blunt the most elegant prose. To write effectively for the ear, writers need to embrace their inner raconteur.

Stories are as essential to our existence as water. They’re how we empathize with each other, and how we make sense of our place in the world. Think of the best storytellers you know and how their stories are better than the rest. Writers need to understand how good storytellers recite a story. The following are traits writers should appropriate from storytellers.

Tell a Linear Story

Effective storytellers set the stage for their story and tell the story in chronological order. Time jumps confuse listeners. The best stories include main characters—characters are the channel for listeners to build empathy and relate to the story. The best stories are told in an active voice.

Use Short Sentences and Frequent Pauses

Long sentences and complex sentences are difficult for listeners to follow. Good storytellers frequently pause so listeners can keep up. Pauses can also add emphasis.

Focus on Main Points

Extraneous details cripple a story. In print, writers can indulge in the occasional digression without losing readers. In an audio story, it’s imperative to focus on the main points because it’s harder for listeners to retain information. When including numbers, approximate. If 350 people attend a rally, say “over 300 people attended.”

Embrace Redundancy

Good storytellers have a habit of restating key points throughout their story. In public relations, there’s a cliché—thrice for emphasis or the “rule of three.” The idea is when listening, we tend to remember three things at a time. So, it’s ideal to restate main points or use a series of synonyms. This concept is often applied in alliterations. For example, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Antony says, “Friends, Romans, countrymen. Lend me your ears.”

Be Colloquial

The best storytellers use common language, short words, and contractions. If listeners don’t recognize a word, they can become lost. Similarly, the word choices need to be easy for the speaker to enunciate. Listeners may stop paying attention if the speaker continuously flubs words.

Practice, Practice and Practice

If writers are performing their work, they need to practice. Repetition improves even the most nervous speakers’ performance. Speak slowly and clearly but animatedly. Monotone droning causes listeners to lose interest even in the most interesting subject.

If you need to write for the ear, mimic the best raconteur that you know. Oral tradition is a narrative medium. Even news stories should incorporate anecdotes whenever possible. If your speech or script is concise, clear and colloquial, listeners will retain the main points. All you have to do is tell them a story.


Dlugan, A. (2009, May 27,). How to use the rule of three in your speeches. Retrieved from http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/rule-of-three-speeches-public-speaking/

Shakespeare, W.Speech: “Friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56968/speech-friends-romans-countrymen-lend-me-your-ears