The Five Senses - #2: Sound

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Now is when I address the second sense:


I want you to stop a moment, where you are, and listen. Listen good. What do you hear?

Me, I hear the air streaming out of the vent. I hear the click of my fan as it whirls around. I hear my dog snoring beside me. I hear my own breathing.

So many sounds! Yet I am in my bedroom, the quietest room in the house! How is this?

There are always sounds. We always hear them, though we learn to tune them out.

In the same way, your character in the story hears sounds. Now, I don't think it's a good idea to list every sound your character can possibly hear. That would be too much useless information and your reader would drown in utter boredom.

But sometimes, sounds could be interesting. Often, they can even replace sight, if you are overusing that sense. Let me show you what I mean.

Your character is sitting in a park. Well, you might describe the park using sight. You could explain there were children running around while the parents sat and talked on the bench.

OR you could say something like this: "I could hear the screams of children as they played, and the faint murmurs of the parents as they gossiped on the benches."

With this sentence, we understand that there are children playing and parents sitting on the benches gossiping. This is more than we learned in the other sentence, but there's more!  If you use sound a lot (I used it only a little in that sentence) then you can create a different mood for your character.

When we're in a sad, lonely mood, we typically don't look around and describe everything we see. We're probably too overwhelmed and sad to think about it. So most likely, if your character is sad and lonely, she won't be looking around and explaining everything her eyes can see. She's probably staring at the bench, or her eyes are filled with tears. So that's where sound comes in to describe your setting without the character being forced to. You can insert sound like I did above, and if you make the character react to it in a bitter way, that will definitely help set the mood. You just knocked out two birds with one stone! Congrats!

Like I addressed in the other chapter, it helps to have your character react to the sounds she hears because that helps set the mood and also allows us to learn the characters personality. Are the kids who are screaming disturbing her, or does it comfort her because it takes her back to her childhood days? (And that's a way to subtly slip in a little history on our character.)

Even so, she/he doesn't have to react to EVERYTHING. If you're describing a scene, most likely she/he wouldn't be affected at all by the people in a café talking (unless she/he was a germ freak and was going crazy about all of the people).

Also, pay attention to your character's personality. Is she said to be attentive? Does she notice details? Well then, if you're writing from her perspective, make her notice details. She would probably hear the hum of the air as it comes out of the vent, and the pit-pat of feet as people leave the restaurant, the dinging of the bell as the door opens.

However, if the character is a total spaz and never notices anything, and people constantly get onto her for it, don't make her the most observant person in the world. That's not consistent. You probably wouldn't want to include as many details as someone else would, but you still need to. However, you'd probably only want to include the details that affected her, since those would be the only ones she noticed.

(BTW, this whole time I've been using the word 'she' for all the characters. Just know, this can apply to guys also. I don't mean anything by using she, it's just easier than saying she/he every time.)

One last note about sound; Whenever you include a detail of sound, say for instance the children laughing, it's never a good to put it all alone in a short sentence, unless it's surrounded with longer sentences also describing sound.

However, if you stick it in the story something like: "The children laughed." It's kind of abrupt. Unless that's what you're looking for, but most of the time it doesn't flow well. Instead, take a sentence like I did earlier. Add in the parents gossiping, and maybe their location. OR you can add in her feelings, like: "The children laughed, and I wished I could close my ears and hear no more painful memories of my past."

Something like that.

Questions? Feel free to ask me. I'd love to help.

CHALLENGE: Read through at least one of your chapters and see if you have any sound mentioned in there at all. If you don't, stop and think about the scene your character is in. Restaurant? Locker room? Playground? What kind of sounds would she/he hear in that place? Also, don't forget the reactions to the sound, and make sure it corresponds with the mood the character is in in that chapter and his/her personality.

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