The Writer’s Ear

“The writer’s ear” is not to be confused with “the writer’s voice.” They are two separate things.

The writer’s voice is that author’s style. The writer’s ear is what you have to have if you are to improve in your craft.

If you can’t “hear” what’s wrong with your writing, how are you going to get better? As an editor, I occasionally come across writers who have no ear. I can tell, because they write in a way that doesn’t flow. Sentences sound awkward or are badly structured, and often the repetition is staggering. 

Authors with no ear write book after book after book and show no improvement. The best editors in the world can go through and fix their shit, giving them examples up the ass on how to improve their writing, and they don’t get it. All that fine editing is wasted on the author, even as it allows them to keep publishing.

They don’t have the ear, and that means they will always be mediocre, bottom-of-the-barrel writers.

Publishers who encourage this kind of writer are doing them and their readers a disservice; the author thinks he has talent (he doesn’t), and editors are busting their humps trying to turn a piece of coal into a semi-precious stone. If they self-publish, my bet is they’ll eventually quit because readers will drift (or run) away, and they may not even realize what’s wrong.

“Huh, this review says my writing sucks. I don’t get it. Looks good to me. Hey, this review says the same thing! Bunch of idiots. They wouldn’t know good writing if it jumped up and bit them on the nose.”

Well, yeah…. Quite a few readers know good writing when they see it. However, there are a lot of other readers who don’t recognize it, and writers with no ear will be lauded by those people. They have, in a sense, found one another.

I often wonder what happens when untrained readers run across good, even excellent writing. Does it shock them into realization, or is it all the same to them? Does quality not even register?

Based on some of the books that make it to the bestseller lists, and the reviews that are attached to them, I’m guessing a whole bunch of people go through life oblivious to the finer things in life. It simply doesn’t show up on their radar.

Examples of things an author with a good writer’s ear should hear and correct:

He put his hand over his mouth. (‘his’ repeated; first one should be ‘a’)
He looked around to see what was around. (‘around’ repeated; the second one should be replaced)
“See, I see exactly what you mean.” (you tell me; if you can’t, you have no writer’s ear)

Here’s the thing: get it down on paper as fast as you can. Don’t worry about how it sounds when you’re writing. But then go back and read what you’ve written. Doing it aloud sometimes helps. If you can’t hear the things that need fixing, you have no ear.

Can this be acquired? I don’t know. I have a writer’s ear. While I don’t catch every typo or screw-up–writers cannot edit their own work, which is why we need our betas–you should be able to correct most of it yourself. It should “sound off.” If everything you write sounds great to you, you have no ear and may never get better.

That being said, I started out making the same mistakes every beginning writer makes. But I kept writing and reading, and I learned. So a writer’s ear can be honed if it’s there to begin with.


Lavender Rose is in final edits and should be released this weekend. I’ll let you know when it’s available. 🙂



About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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14 Responses to The Writer’s Ear

  1. Allison says:

    I love this. I am shocked at how often I read something that’s been raved about only to wonder what everyone else read and how they weren’t terribly annoyed by the quality of the writing.

    Perfection isn’t required but effort is and if someone constantly gets edits back that they do nothing to follow or learn from then they don’t deserve to write or rather they don’t deserve to be read.

    • As an editor, I agree with you. Our job isn’t only to catch the stuff the writer misses (and we ALL miss stuff), but we also hope the writer takes something away from our work in a way that helps them improve the next time they write. Doesn’t work like this very often, though. 😦

      As a reader, I wish there were better writers! I’m getting rather tired of reading crap, ya know? And there’s a lot out there.

  2. suze294 says:

    I know what you mean. Sometimes reading a book, the writing can feel stilted and almost too correctly spoken. We are all lax in how we speak, not making correct sentence construction so when I read correctly written dialogue it just sounds so off! Reading dialogue out loud would help some stories I’ve read either be stopped or reworded for the better of us all
    {clapping} for Lavender Rose!

    • I “hear” dialog as I write it. That’s part of the writer’s ear. I’m rather good at it, too, making it sound natural without being boring as hell or too formal.

      How many times have you read dialog in a book that constantly started with “Well,…” or “So…” As I said in one of my blogs, in real life, you’re boring. Try not to do that in fiction. 😉 I knew someone who ended every sentence with “you know?” as if to see if anyone was still listening. Imagine writing dialog that way! It would incense the reader in no time.

      On the other hand, if you want a character to be absolutely annoying, do that! Add the “you know” to the end of every line of dialog. But make damn sure that character doesn’t hang around long, or the reader will DNF.

  3. A.M.B. says:

    A “writer’s ear” is an interesting concept (one that I haven’t thought about before). Writers probably develop it from being readers of well-written books. The problem is that it’s often hard to find well-written books!

  4. kmac64 says:

    I don’t know that I have the “ear” but I see this frequently. One of my biggest pet peeves, in a story, is the overuse of the characters name. Dialogue tags, I believe. This will pull me out of a story quicky and I find myself searching for them. Spelling errors stick out like a sore thumb to me. Another pet peeve, the wrong use of he/him or she/her. Even in conversation, face to face, this drives me crazy, lol. “May I speak to Sue?”, this is her! Ugh… And this example brings up may/can, lol. It is endless. Even with these mistakes, I can still enjoy a good story, if it is not excessive. One or two is not the end all for me.

    But….in other news, excited about the release of Lavender Rose. When the opportunity presents itself you should always add Theo Fenraven books to your library. 🙂

    Have a good week-end!! 😉

    • A writer has to balance grammatical correctness with the style of writing. Non-fiction writers can be more formal than fiction writers. Even when I edit, I’ll let some things go because it works for that character or the writer’s style. If it flows well, it’s correct, never mind what the Elements of Style says. 🙂

      I’m nearly finished with the final edit. After that, it gets compiled into the various formats and published! Look for it Sunday.

  5. Helena Stone says:

    Very interesting post. I’ve no idea whether or not I have a writer’s ear but I do know that I read everything I write out loud to myself when I start going over it. It is not just so I can hear what it actually sounds like but also because I know that if I read quietly I’ll start going to fast and skipping over things I really shouldn’t be missing. Whether all of that results in readable words remains to be seen but I’m enjoying the process and for now I’ll settle for that.

    Also; can’t wait to get my hands on Lavender Rose. Roll on Sunday.

    • 🙂 I find, if I set aside my writing for a few months, I can come back to it with fresh eyes and see things I miss when I’m working on it. Too bad we don’t have the luxury of waiting that long, eh?

  6. Valerie says:

    I have an author I would love have read this blog. She is a best seller with two major story lines and I’ve read all of them sometimes several times (or more). I would recommend her to friends all the time. Then slowly it seemed her writing started to change but I couldn’t put my finger on why, just something was “off” but I kept buying because I had enjoyed her books so much. She just put out another book in one of her series that people have waited for five years to see published. It was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Ever. After reading the comments left by readers on amazon I found out apparently she has a contract in which she doesn’t have to have an editor. (Is that possible?) This was the last book on that contract. If this is her writing without editing (and where were her betas?) your blog today is exactly the one she should read…’s her writing to a T! I was so disappointed as well as insulted that this writer would put something like this out for her readers and expect them to accept it because it was “her” writing it. I write better then she does! After reading your blog I can see what was off about her writing, she has no ear.

    I really like the new cover for Lavender Rose. I’m a big fan of sepia, it always imparts a sense of age to me or that there’s a hell of a lot of sunshine washing out the colors :)!

    • Any writer who forgoes the use of an editor is cutting their own throat, because readers can and do notice the difference. They might buy you for another book or two, but they will eventually give their money to authors who take more care with their work and have more respect for their readers. Not using an editor disrespects readers.

      The number of writers who would be revealed as shitty writers if they didn’t use editors is legion.

  7. This is a great post Theo! I definitely understand what you’re talking about here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something & felt I could instantly see ways to improve it. In those situations I just itch to get in there and edit 🙂

    With my own writing I am, if anything, overly picky. I have a hard time with the “get it down on paper as fast as you can” part; I get stuck on something that doesn’t sound right & need to fix it right away or it sort of depresses me & I lose energy to write. But doing that is bad too, because it slows the flow of ideas . . .

    Anyway, repeated words are one of my big pet peeves. Though I think I’m a bit OCD about that; it bugs me to see or use the same word twice in the next paragraph or so, let alone in the same or next sentence! But it’s funny though, I’m a really forgiving reader, so if the characters & story are compelling enough I will overlook a lot. Sometimes I don’t even notice the errors if the story is an exciting one. Other times I notice but just don’t care. Kind of like ignoring someone’s annoying traits if you like the person a lot, I guess 🙂

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