Write and Speak for the Ear

Comments (20)

Write and Speak for the Ear

By: Robert F. Abbott

You and I may not aspire to write great books or make great speeches. But almost all of us want something to happen when we write or speak. And, the more we direct our words to the ears of readers and listeners, the greater our chances of getting the results we want.

By writing or speaking for the ear, I mean that spoken words can have more power than written words. After all, when we have important messages, we prefer to deliver them verbally and personally, rather than by sending a written message.

Of course, it's not practical or possible to deliver every message verbally. But, if we can capture some of the nuances of the spoken word we can increase the power of our messages. When we write for the ear, our writing undergoes some subtle but important changes. Our words, sentences, and paragraphs change in several ways.

Consider the number of pauses that occur when we speak. Most of us pause often, more often than when we write. To capture those pauses, use commas or one of the other 'slowing' punctuation marks, such as colons and semicolons.

Writing for the ear also means shorter sentences. And even fragments of sentences. As you can imagine, speech tends to greater spontaneity than written expression, which means shorter sentences and more fragments.

Many of the same principles hold when we make formal speeches or presentations. Especially if we speak from prepared notes.

Whatever we say, when we speak publicly, has to go in through listeners' ears. And so, if you'll allow me to belabor the obvious, we need to write speeches for listeners' ears, not our mouths.

You can call on many quick and easy techniques. For example, use short words whenever possible. Words such as 'many' rather than 'numerous'; 'use' rather than 'utilize'; and 'need' rather than 'require'.

You can also speak for the ear by using common words rather than jargon or technical words. Step back from your speech, after writing it, and ask yourself if you use words that a child will understand.

We also want vivid words, words that fire up our imagination, that paint new images on the canvases of readers' minds. Descriptive words that convey action and emotion, words that drive ideas into our heads.

Use active verbs and not passive verbs. Banish words like 'is', and 'are'. Also, check for the word 'being' and rewrite to get rid of it. Bring in verbs that do something.

Now that you've got the words you want, put them into short sentences. One short sentence. Followed by another short sentence. But, every once in while add a longer sentence for variety and to reduce the chances of boring your audience. And, keep the ideas simple within those long sentences.

I'm biased, I know. After spending the better part of a decade writing and reading radio news copy, I think it's a good idea to write for the ear.

Try it for yourself. Write something, read it out loud, and ask yourself about the effect it's likely to have on readers. Re-write as necessary, and read it aloud again. Repeat the process a few times. By the time you finish you should have a well-crafted piece of writing, even if no one ever reads it aloud or hears it spoken.

About The Author

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Each week subscribers receive, at no charge, a new communication tip that helps them lead or manage more effectively. Click here for more information: http://www.CommunicationNewsletter.com



Casandra X 21.08.2007. 02:33

How well could a partially blind and deaf student drive? They have absolutely no hearing and no eyesite in their right ear and eye at the same time. They were born that way sinse birth.
Still, they can read, write, speak very well. It almosst seems like they aren't blind and deaf because of their skills and talents.

That's the person wh just posted this question. Moi.

Casandra X

Admin 21.08.2007. 02:33

I don't know about that one. As a fellow driver on the road, I would question their ability to see well enough to drive. It's very important to be able to see around the entire car - especially for lane changes and checking the blind spot.

I don't think the deafness would be a problem though - I have a friend who drives all the time without a problem though she complains that she can't sign while she drives.

Nothing against you, but wouldn't public transportation be better for everyone's safety?


Natasha 12.09.2010. 06:38

How do I get accustomed to writing this way? I've always written in first person. Always. I have an idea for a new story and it needs to be in third person for it to really work. How do I get used to writing like this? How do I figure out how to do it in the first place? I never really liked writing in third person, but I like reading it more than first person. So I need to know how I can best write this story in third person.
If you have any tips, advice, or just anything you want to say, please help! It's much appreciated!


Admin 12.09.2010. 06:38

Its not always easy to try a new writing style. Here's some tips to get you started in the third person:
1) Try writing a couple of descriptive paragraphs about your characters to ?get into their heads.? What do they look and speak like. Do they have accents? Where do they live and in what time period? What are their hobbies? Do they have any family?
Its easy to write in the first person, because you already have all of this knowledge about yourself at your disposal. Once you learn more about your characters' motivation and personality, it'll become easier to write from their perspective. You could even try drawing a picture of them, to go with your descriptions!
2) Remember that there are three types of third person writing: Omniscient (Thoughts of all the characters are known), Limited (Thoughts of only one character are known), and Objective (The reader does not know any thoughts of any characters).
Try writing in third person limited, because its the most similar to the first person. In other words, all of the thoughts of your main character, for example, will be known, but none of the others in the story. For example, ?John thought that he should tell Mary that he had a crush on her, even though he wasn't sure Mary felt the same way.?
3) Choose a selection from a story you have already written in the first person, and then rewrite it in third. Notice how the tone, mood and description changes with the change in point of view, and apply these changes to your new story.
4) If the story you are writing is autobiographical (about yourself), think about how a friend or family member would describe the situation back to you, looking at it from the outside. Likewise, think about how you would write a story about a friend or family member. Writing about someone you know may be easier in the third person than developing an entirely new character, because you are already familiar with their background and motivation.
5) Even though writing in the third person seems hard now, just remember that you use it every day! Every time you speak about someone else, you're telling a story in the third person ? you just may not realize that you're doing it. Try writing down a conversation you overheard, and you'll automatically be in the third person without even trying. While you're writing, pretend you are the wall. If the wall had ears, what would it have heard?
Hopefully these tips will help, but just remember, everything takes practice! Keep at it, and soon, writing in the third person will be second nature to you. Best of luck and happy writing!



Cas 05.05.2013. 22:34

Any tips on writing odes and sonnets? I have to write an ode and a sonnet but I'm not very good with poetry. Do you have tips? And does anyone know of good odes to read as examples?


Admin 05.05.2013. 22:34

How to Write an Ode Poem

An ode is a poem in praise of a person, place or object that is usually identified in the title. It describes a scene, focuses on a problem or a situation and arrives at a conclusion that returns to the original scene or statement. Originally, the ode was a serious poetic form, but modern odes often are written in praise of the ordinary.

Select a topic for your ode, and make a list attributes for that topic.

Consider how your ode can be used as a metaphor to illustrate a typical problem or situation. Decide on a scene that will begin the poem and set up the ode so that it points the reader to the conclusion you will assert.
@ Learn more

Ode to Psyche - John Keats

O GODDESS! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung
By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,
And pardon that thy secrets should be sung
Even into thine own soft-conchèd ear:
Surely I dream'd to-day, or did I see
The wingèd Psyche with awaken'd eyes?
I wander'd in a forest thoughtlessly,
And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise,
Saw two fair creatures, couchèd side by side
In deepest grass, beneath the whisp'ring roof
Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran
A brooklet, scarce espied:
@ Entire ode, here...

How To Write A Sonnet
Think of an idea. It must be just one single idea. It could be a feeling, like being in love. It could be some thought you?ve had about life, or about a person or about people in general. It could be about one of your favourite subjects ? sport, music, movies, nature, a book you?ve read etc.

Your sonnet must rhyme. There must be three sets of four lines and one set of two lines.
A set of four lines is called a quatrain. They must follow this pattern. The first quatrain will rhyme like this: abab, for example, rain, space, pain, trace.

In the second quatrain you will use different words and it will rhyme like this: cdcd, for example, run, sky, sun, die.

In the third quatrain you will use different words again and it will rhyme like this: efef, for example, boy, man, joy, van.

You now have your three Shakespearean quatrains. That?s twelve lines. A sonnet always has fourteen lines. You need a final two and they are called a couplet. So far your sonnet has three quatrains. Once you have written them the sonnet needs a couplet. The rhyme pattern for that is gg. Again, words you haven?t used in the rhyming so far. An example is owl and fowl.

Your rhyme pattern will look like this: abab/ cdcd/efef/gg
@ Learn more

Sonnet 130 - William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.


Emily 20.03.2007. 07:06

How can I get better at creative writing? I am a middle school student. For my age, people say I write well. But my sentences are very short and I don't describe things well. Are there any tips you have for me to improve? Any textbooks that will help me?


Admin 20.03.2007. 07:06

I think it is exciting that you are interested in writing. To write well is to build a bridge to the world out of your own dreams. By this I mean it is a lot of work but also fun. Perhaps like exploring the darkest jungles and wildest native ruins and discovering incredible treasures and finding them all in your own back yard. Thank god you bothered to look. Truly the best way to get better at writing is also the best way to get better at anything. Practice. Be easy on yourself with criticism and hard on yourself with effort. Never say I am not good enough but always how can I say this better. Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for literature and wrote his first epic poem at about your age. He said something that brought me great comfort. He said "Each blank page fills me with barely contained terror and if anyone tells you differently they are lying" So if writing feels difficult, that is normal. I will suggest two sources for tips on writing. First Kurt Vonnegut's rules:

Now lend me your ears. Here is Creative Writing 101:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things?reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them?in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O?Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

If you haven't read Vonnegut. You have a treat on the way.

I will also suggest a book by none other than Steven King who by the way encourages people to use nice short sentences and to be careful not to get carried away describing things. The title of the book is ahem "On Writing" I think it is very useful. There are many resources and many of them with some value. I think a good mantra for young writer would be "Write anyway" or Write Away right away the right way er.........hehe


its me. 07.02.2009. 15:29

I need to write a song for one of my classes and it needs to be about current events and ideas? Give me some current events, or help me even write a song! Haha. I'm planning on using my accoustic, maybe even the piano? Lot's of kids are using Obama but I kind of want to be more original? I already tried looking up current events but I can't seem to find any to really write about. Thanks!

its me.

Admin 07.02.2009. 15:29

Here are a list of people who have been in the news.Either can find the news article on a news site or simply type in their name in the search section and articles will pop up on them.

1.The Casey Anthony Case (accused of killing 2 year old daughter Caley.Definitely will find articles on CNN or Nancy Grace Site)

2.Recall on Peanut Butter and other Peanut Products

3.Jessica Simpson weight gain controversy.(any entertainment website) Also Jessica Simpson years ago wrote a song called "In This SKin" about being beautiful and feeling comfortable in your skin though others don't like how you look.Ironic she's dealing with this now.

4.CHristian Bale caught on audio in a rage on the set of his movie and now coming out apologizing.

5.Michael Phelps suspended and dropped from a major sponsor after photos emerged of him smoking marijuana from a pipe.

6.Legend Etta James who sung "At Last" speaking negatively about Beyonce staying how she can't stand her and talking about how she sung her song at the President's Inauguration Ball, how Beyonce is going to get her A** kicked, and talking about how Obama is not her president and how he has big ears." No comment from Beyonce's camp but Etta James later states she was just joking but no one believes her after hearing her state this.She sounded serious and wasn't laughing.Probably can just type in Etta James and Beyonce and the articles will come up.


Ali 13.12.2012. 13:24

How do I write a thesis statement for this? The subject is on Hamlet? 2002. Morally ambiguous characters -- characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good -- are at the heart of many works of literature. Choose a novel or play in which a morally ambiguous character plays a pivotal role. Then write an essay in which you explain how the character can be viewed as morally ambiguous and why his or her moral ambiguity is significant to the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.


Admin 13.12.2012. 13:24

Hamlet in a Nutshell - Hamlet Is an Anti-War Play - http://www.thyorisons.com/#Nutshell

The title says it all: "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." Because he is Prince of Denmark he is not free to "carve for himself." He is subject to the "voice of Denmark" - and that voice "had been loosed out of hell to speak of horrors."

Hamlet, like all the other major characters, is untrue to himself. When he is himself, he is like Horatio, a student from Wittenberg. But as he said, "Horatio, or I do forget myself." He does forget himself. He erases himself and his humanist education ("all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, that youth and observation copied there") from his own brain and there in the book and volume of his brain he writes his father's commandment (the voice of Denmark, loosed out of Hell to speak of horrors, to breathe contagion, unfolding the secrets of his prison-house that he was forbid to tell to mortal ears). Hamlet is from himself taken away.

When he is not "from himself taken away," Hamlet is a rational humanist scholar from Wittenberg. But Hamlet erases that side of himself from the book and volume of his brain and replaces it with the commandment of his warlike father. Thereafter all of Hamlet's soliloquies are really debates between the warring sides of his divided soul. Hamlet is a valiant soldier of the spirit, fighting a desperate internal battle to defend the sovereignty of his soul.

In the "my thoughts be bloody" soliloquy: (4,4,38-68)

Hamlet the scholar says,

Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused.

But Prince Hamlet, the soldier-son of a warlike king scoffs at thinking too precisely and concludes:

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

A gravedigger was hired on the very day that Hamlet emerged from his mother's womb, which was the same day his father put old Fortinbras into the "womb of earth" (his grave), thus acquiring land "that was and is the question of these wars" and which was Hamlet's inheritance, figuratively a graveyard, like the part of Poland not big enough to cover the dead from the impending war over that same land.

BERNARDO (1.1.121-124)

. . . . so like the king
that was and is the question of these wars.

That is Hamlet's dilemma - whether "to be or not to be," like the Ghost, "so like the king that was and is the question of these wars."

In the end, Hamlet won that battle for the sovereignty of his soul.
(Please see The Rebirth of Hamlet.)

Then with his dying words Hamlet proved that he was not "so like the king THAT was and IS THE QUESTION of these wars." He passed his inheritance of blood-soaked dirt along with the voice of Denmark to Fortinbras - without a war, thus saving the lives of thousands of his countrymen.

The arrogant and cowardly Prince Fortinbras, who had sent thousands of commoners to their graves for his "honour." is shocked that, at the Danish court, "so many princes" have died. In contrast, Hamlet has just saved the lives of thousands of commoners by refusing to be so like the "honourable" Fortinbras.

Even to this day, we are still so conditioned to bow to the divine rights of princes and presidents that Hamlet's concession to Fortinbras seems "dishonourable." But why should the common people go to their graves by the thousands for a straw, for a piece of ground not big enough to bury the dead, for the "honour" of pampered princes and pompous presidents?


ApplesForMe 23.10.2008. 15:11

Best way to encourage Korean middle school students to speak English in class? I just started teaching English at a middle school in South Korea. My focus is mainly on improving their speaking abilities. The problem is I see the students only once a week for 45 minutes. Classroom size average around 30 students, all with very limited English skills.

1) What is the best way to utilize the very limited amount of time I have?

2) What are some methods I could use to encourage students to speak English?


Admin 23.10.2008. 15:11

I introduce humor into the classroom when the kids don't listen or try hard enough:

Sometimes, I would simply mime something when they are talking so they look up to me to try and understand what I am saying or talk loudly and completely gibberish and tell them that in English class all other languages sound like this.You could even write gibberish on the board and ask them to say- it also exercises their vocal skills.

Have lots of riddles in rhymes. Make up nonsense poems with them.

Have a fun "punishment" for every time they speak in Korean. I have a buddy system so when they talk their partners go up to them and sing in their ears or something silly but it works.

Catch the pulse of your class and see what works best with your class. Have humourous and innovative things to deter them to speak in vernacular. Have lots of games in English and most importantly, children tend to think in their native tongue so you have to make them see the beauty of the English language. Make some charts with beautiful graphics and word searches and put them up in class so they see them. Bring them beauty into the presentaion too leaving aside dull textbooks.

Most of all have fun and enjoy the learning process with them :)


The Chief 12.02.2007. 04:38

What is the best way to better my grammar and sentence structure when I write and talk? I really want to better my oral, and written English skills and I was wondering what would be the best way to become better at it? Any help will be greatly appreciated.

The Chief

Admin 12.02.2007. 04:38

Here's another idea. Listen every day to good English - if you can get NPR, listen all day long. They speak really well, and on reasonably intelligent topics. You will get the sound of good English in your ears.

Then try reading good writing aloud. You will be practicing the way it feels to speak well. Particularly read interesting or exciting things - the emotion helps imprint the learning.

Then if you really want to speed it up, get the podcasts of those NPR shows (they're free, most of them) and play some sentences that you like over and over and try to say the same thing at the same speed and with the same phrasing until you can sound just like the person on the radio.

I'll bet you'll be amazed at how quickly you start feeling comfortable with standard English this way.

The reading thing works, especially if you start young and spend your life doing it - I know, because that's the way I acquired a larger-than-your-average vocabulary and developed a kind of instinct for what is correct. I almost never looked up words in a dictionary as a kid, but I knew how they were supposed to be used by having learned them in their contexts. However, you may not be four years old, so you may need something that works a little faster.

Using your ears and your mouth to develop the habits of the phrases of good English (or any other language you want to learn) will work about as fast as anything else I can think of.

Good luck!



Benjamin 01.12.2012. 23:19

I already know the basics of french, but what are some ways to practice the language? I already took 4 years of French in high school, and I'm currently a college student.

What are some good ways that I can practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking French?

What would you recommend?
Merci pour tout les suggestions !


Admin 01.12.2012. 23:19

To practice the language is very different than to learn the language theoretically.

When we memorize vocabulary and practice verbs, our brain is involved 100% - we can do it in our mind, know it all, yet not being able to speak it when we need it.

This is because, when we speak, a whole different part of our body is involved: muscles of the mouth that have to perform correctly in order to produce the desired sounds, and the ears, that are guiding us in perfecting the result of our speech.

Reading, writing and listening are crucial for our speech, but not sufficient and, unfortunately, as speech is a performance, we need a partner to do it with.

Going to France helps, but results are coming in a while; as people are nice, they don't necessarily correct and guide us, so our ear is our only friend there, to fix what we say based on what we hear. Beware that until a certain point, we can't hear the difference between some sounds, before our ear is properly trained.

Having a local meet-up will also help. Here we can ask people to help us correct our mistakes, and they are very nice and helpful.

Online conversation groups are awesome these days, we can meet people from around the world to speak with via Skype or other programs.

Finally, there are online tutors who can help - again, from around the world - and they can dedicate their undivided attention to our needs and coach us to become fluent.

Hope this helps!


Ellie. 21.11.2012. 21:12

How to write dialogue in books? I'm attempting to write a book but I'm struggling to make the speech between characters flow. I feel much more confident at description but my characters conversations are lacking something to say the least. I know what I want them to say but I just don't know how to word it.

I've mind mapped each chapter and like I said, I know what I want them to say but when I write it down it just doesn't seem right. Has any one got any advice or tips that they do themselves? Any input would be great.



Admin 21.11.2012. 21:12

Alfred Hitchcock said: "movies are real life with the boring parts cut out."

My teacher once said that it's the same thing with a dialogue.
Dialogue should sound natural, something a real person would say. You just have to cut out the boring parts.

Personally, I think it's a choice of style.
I've read books where one character's lines is one page long. In those books the author has written the speech in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way. That's how you talk with people in real life. You ramble on, forget what you were saying and start a new story in the middle of another.

But in my opinion, you write what's relevant to the story, and this goes for the dialogue as well.
You know your characters (ideally), so you know how they speak.
Even if two of your characters are saying the same thing, they would probably say it differently. The vocabulary, the phrases they use, their tone, the structure of their sentences - all these little things give your characters a unique voice.

Sometimes it helps if you read your writings out loud. If it looks good on paper and it almost sounds good in your ears as well, I think you're very close to the finishing line.


Write a comment

* = required field





* Yes No