Writing with Sound

Waves can roll gently onto a beach while the trees whisper in the wind, or they can roar and crack the driftwood when they crash. Adding sounds to any prose can make a scene feel more real. Sound is an easy element to forget when writing a draft because typically the focus is on setting the scene and dialogue.

Sounds can be subtle scene-setters, however, and often in editing or even in early drafts I now will always make a point to stop and think about what the characters would hear in whatever situation I’ve written for them. Aside from spicing up the narrative and making the scene feel more realistic, sounds can also step in to ‘show’ something to the reader instead of telling them.

For example, imagine a scene in a busy restaurant where two people are having an awkward conversation. Telling the reader that the character paused during an awkward silence at dinner which can work to get the point across, but it might be better to focus the scene on the silence itself with something like: she didn’t respond to the question, and instead focused on the jangle of the spoon hitting the mug like a bell ringing as she stirred the coffee.

Because we often associate sounds with our own memories, the second version of the same scene that includes the spoon jangling in the mug brings the reader into the scene more closely and also help them remember that moment in the scene more because of what was excluded as much as the sound included.

When I’m stuck in a chapter or feeling a sense of writer’s block, refocusing the writing to add in sound often helps improve the scene and help usher me into the next chapter. It’s a little trick that I’ve found to be helpful. I hope that this writing tip ‘clicks’ with you as well!