When Writing For The Ear

Within the past few years, podcasts have exploded. So, how can you make your own successful piece of audio art?

When writing for the ear, rather than for the eye, there are certain elements that you should be aware of that will enhance the experience for your listener. Sentence structure, word choice, and most importantly, practice. In “Writing for the Ear Instead of the Eye” by Jill Swenson, she urges you to “follow your ABC’s. Accurate. Brief. Clear” (Swenson, 2017). This can prove difficult, because as writes we often want to create detailed stories that are great if the reader has time to re-read and indulge in our story. But, when someone is listening to a Podcast, they need to be able to take in the information quickly and easily. Like reading, listeners will turn off the radio or a podcast if it doesn’t catch their attention, so it’s important to really capture your audience just as quickly.

One of my favorite examples of how to quickly capture an audience comes from a podcast called, “Missing Richard Simmons”. Hosted by his long-time friend, this podcast dives deep into the mystery behind Simmons recluse from the outside world. It opens with a live recording of one of Simmon’s  exercise classes. His loud and peppy nature immediately draws the attention of the listener. From that moment on, I was hooked and listened to the whole series in one day.

Sentence Structure

Put yourself in the shoes of the listener, it’s sometimes hard to take in complex, long sentences. Use shorter sentences. A good goal to aim for is around 20 words, brief and impactful. 

Be linear in your sentence structure. It should read as: Subject-verb-object. This creates a simple, straight-forward sentence. A large difference in writing for the ear rather than the eye is that repetition works in favor of your listener, where it can become boring to a reader. The ear is attracted to bouncy, catchy phrases. Get creative to paint a picture in your listener’s head.

Word Choice

Choose your words wisely. This type of writing favors short, simple words. I refer back to the ABCs. Listeners need a brief, clear picture, so it’s okay to avoid detail. Swenson says, “Don’t fall in love with your words. Show your affection instead for the message” (Swenson, 2017). This is a great point and I often relate it to the curse of knowledge. Especially when writing for the ear, treat your audience as if they are brand new to the topic. By using terms that anyone could comprehend, you can ensure that you are being clear.

Practice

There’s a whole new element to writing for the ear, speaking. Developing a voice that will be compelling to the listener is important to the success of your piece. Since the listener cannot see what you’ve written, it’s important to take it slow and make sure to dictate your punctuation. Not only will this give variety, it will make you sound more interesting.

Practicing what you have written will give you time to filter out words such as um, like, really, and other filler words. When performing or recording, you have a smooth deliver and you eliminate anything that may distract the listener from your message.

A great example of writing for the ear that encompasses all of these aspects is the podcast, Serial, which in the first season, follows Adnan Syed, who is in jail for the murder of his high school girlfriend. It is hosted by the great Sarah Koenig, who does an outstanding job of storytelling. I found Serial in high school and found myself suddenly obsessing over a mysterious murder case from 1999. Koenig incorporates complex and compelling characters that will make any listener stick around. In this quote from the first episode, she describes a few of the main players.

“Rabia is 40. She’s short, and she’s got a beautiful round face framed by hijab. She’s adorable looking, but you definitely shouldn’t mess with her. She’s very smart and very tough, and she could crush you. Her brother Saad was at Rabia’s office too the first time I went. He’s 33, a mortgage broker, more laid back than Rabia. They told me about Adnan Syed, their friend– not just a good kid, but an especially good kid– smart, kind, goofy, handsome. So that when he was arrested for murder, so many people who know him were stunned.”

But more importantly, it’s her personality. The listener wants to hear what she has to say because she is likeable and relatable. Whether it’s sifting through stacks of criminal files with lawyers, or retracing Syed’s steps the day of the crime, the listener is right there with her. Anyone considering writing for ear, I highly suggest taking notes from Koenig.

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