How To Develop Your Ear As A Writer

develop writers ear
It’s very exciting when you realise how much control you have when you’re writing. Every single word you lay on the page is an active choice. When you start with a blank page the potential is limitless – and so getting the right word can mean everything.

When you think about that you quickly understand that every single word you write can be brilliant – or it can be dull.

A single page of screenplay can sparkle. Or it can be turgid.

And it’s only the words that make that happen.

So how do you make the right choices?

Well, a lot of that is about your ear. And that’s pretty subtle. But there are ways you can develop your ear. Reading as many screenplays as you can, for months, or years, is very important. If you do that, over time, slowly and surely, you absorb a layer of appreciation about how the masters do it.

But it can take a long time. So… here’s one little tip to quicken that process. I did this a lot when I was starting out, and I still do it every now and then when I find a writer I admire and I can’t see how they are doing what they do.

I download a screenplay I admire from or and I transcribe some of it.


I take, oh, the first five pages, and literally go through them, word by word, copying each word into my screenwriting software.

When I do that I can feel what it’s like to make choices like that writer does. Word by word, sentence by sentence, beat by beat, scene by scene.

It’s the closest you’ll get to inhabiting their mind.

You will be able to feel where the choices they made are different from the choices you would have made.

You will be able to see where they use far less words than you might, or get to the point far quicker, or write a scene with a completely different angle.

Once you’ve done this for a while, I suggest you do it with one of your own scripts.

And feel the difference. It can be very instructive.

One caveat: If you do this, then I recommend you only download scripts from the last ten years. Writing styles change over time, so it’s worth doing this with writers who are currently selling the sorts of scripts you want to write.

Viv’s Screenwriting Toolbox—Part One
Daydreaming to Fix Story Problems

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