Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Sound of Writing

Click, click, click.

Tap, tap, tap.


The sound that I hear while I'm writing, typing on my keyboard, is like music to my ears. Like a sweet symphony playing in the background to my creative muse. Yet, I tune it out as it plays softly and focus instead on the words speaking to me from somewhere deep inside me.

Some of my favorite sounds in life are to hear are the river running behind my house, the laughter of my children, the beating of my husband's heart.  Listening to these things evokes a story in itself. Serenity. Joy. Oneness.

Bringing the element of sound into our writing can enhance it greatly, whether it is non-fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, or fiction. Sound is a sense that most of us can relate to. The absence of sound can also speak volumes.

The boom of fireworks.
Resounding hoofbeats.
A gun's report.
A shrill answer.
An echo.
The rush of waterfalls.
A child's whimper.
Wind chimes.
Scratching on the door.
Pattering of rain on a roof.
A growl.
A judges gavel.
Shallow breathing.
The howl of wind.
Tree frogs.
The humming of a lullaby.
A low whistle.
Words uttered beneath one's breath.
Word's left unspoken.

Is it near or far? Fading? Growing closer? Reverberating? Haunting? Singing? Imagined?

Some sounds incite varying connotations for the individual. Remember the click. click. click. tap. tap. tap. ching. that I mentioned above?  To me these very sounds evoke a different era. The click of my keyboard. The harder tap of a an old typewriter. The ching of a carriage return. A what? A faint and brisk patter - the sound of texting. Sounds are also cliche. The whistle of a train tells us that it is coming in to the station. That beeping sound tells us that a truck is backing up. Drip. Drip. A leaky faucet. Cooing is coming from a baby. The rattling lungs of imminent death. The wedding march. Drumming fingers. The turn of a page. You get the picture. The word picture. One cannot paint sound, but we can write it.

Liz Curtis Higgs shared a great example that illustrates how effective this can be. It's simply genious.

"The distant hoofbeats were growing louder."

Instantly I know that a horse, perhaps horse and rider, are coming nearer. I'm curious, anticipating, and right there. It's not only an inspiring piece of prose, it is an excellent hook.

So you can see how the use of sound can enrich our writing. It can help establish setting.  It can give clues to emotion. Give distinct traits to a personality. And bring our writing to life!

What are your own favorite sounds? How do you use the sense of sound in your writing? Can you share a favorite passage of writing that uses sound in a creative way? 

Here are some great sound videos on you tube to inspire you.


  1. You know it's interesting, when I am listening to soft worship music, my writing takes a natural poetic nature. When I am listening to my Mother cat nagging her kittens, I start to write with a more sarcastic tone. Hmm...

  2. I love the sounds of the birds at my feeder. It always, always, ALWAYS makes me smile and feel at peace. Oddly, I LOATHE the recorded sound of birds that NPR plays on Sat/Sun mornings after Garrison Keiler finishes "The Writer's Almanac". That plasticky chirrupping from the radio will get me out of bed faster than any squawking alarm ever could!

  3. Thanks for the reminder about how important sounds are to our writing! They soooooo help create a great visual and put the reader right in the scene.

  4. I try to incorporate all the senses in my writing. Favorite sounds include worship music, summer sounds (crickets on a sultry night), and the gurgles and coos of an infant.

    Off topic: I've linked to your video on words today. :)

  5. That opening passage of approaching sound from Liz's book reminded me of the one from Diana Gabaldon's Drums of Autumn.

    "I heard the drums long before they came in sight. The beating echoed in the pit of my stomach, as though I too were hollow."

    Ominous and visceral, especially as the scene unfolds.

  6. That is a wonderful passage, Lori! Amazing how engaging a few words can be. Using the senses has such a profound impact. Thank you for sharing it.

  7. Interesting to hear some of your thoughts on the sounds that alter your mood or creative spirit!

  8. Susan, thank you for sharing my link to that words videos. I see many have taken the time to view it.

  9. I enjoy "hearing" what sounds you all enjoy! Many of them are also pleasing to my ears.

  10. I like waterfalls, the quiet sound when the kids are fresh asleep, coffee brewing in the morning, rain....

    I can't think of a good passage right now, but I am sure I will be looking for them as I read later.

    I Like your blog,
    Amy @ Missional Mama


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