Sound in Writing: Listen To This for a Minute

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Sound in Writing: Listen To This for a Minute

Sound in Writing

Listen to this for just a minute or two. What do you hear? Some faint music, yes, and someone putting pencil to paper – Scribbling? Furiously writing? Maybe it is a great idea for a novel, and he is trying to write as fast as his mind conjures the ideas. Or is this person writing a love letter? Shopping list? Penning an angry response to a vendor down the street who failed to deliver his goods? After a bit, we hear the same person typing on a keyboard.

“He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling.” – Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

As a writer, your job is grab the reader’s attention with your words. And that means keeping the reader engaged. Engagement includes dialogue, pacing, imagery, and narration. A lesser writer may have written Ernest Hemingway’s sentence above as:

“His heart thumped when a couple of pebbles fell.”

Not the same punch as Hemingway. Rather, Hemingway’s sentence has some anticipation, and time has elapsed (thirty seconds, five minutes?). He was alert – hearing and seeing nothing – and he was scared (or relieved) to hear the small rocks bouncing (leaping) on stone. He might have been ducking in a doorway, clutching stucco or bricks, breathing heavily. Hemingway’s words paint a picture and we hear – quite clearly – his heartbeat and the stones dropping.

Practice incorporating sound into your writing. How would you describe a boy afraid of loud noises, such as the clap of thunder overhead or entering a stadium of fifty thousand chanting sports fans? What about the sensory overload of a disabled shopper entering a busy department store and having to navigate through the crowds?

Boys whistling (they must be happy), buzzing (hungry), bees, purring (satisfied) kittens, a window cracking (broken), a deafening (massive) roar, melodic (beautiful and peaceful) music. These are descriptive and convey sound in your mind. Now imagine them incorporated with your words and your tone in your story.

When you finish your masterpiece, are you envisioning how you have incorporated sound into your descriptions? Can you see and hear and touch the story? If the answer is No, then perhaps it needs a bit more thought and polish.