Writing about the Sense of Sound

Sound is most likely the second the most used sense in writing, and there’s so many ways to tackle writing about the sense of sound. For example, I’ve always been interested in how characters sound when they talk. And I love how sound adds another layer of complexity to a setting.

How Do You Say That?

My interest in how a character sounds may come from years of being a movie fan. Describing a character’s usual voice gives a story a cinematic touch and is a way to help readers differentiate between characters without relying as heavily on visual cues. Below are the ways I described characters’ voices in my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow.

  • My main character Rae has a slight Southern accent, which is noticeable now that she lives in Ohio.
  • Her friend Houston, who’s originally from Texas, speaks with that accent in a drawl.
  • Her boss Barb speaks in a “crisp clip” when talking to someone she doesn’t like.
  • Rae’s dad’s voice is a “penetrating” or “booming baritone”.
  • Rae’s great-grandfather has “a voice as deep and rocky as an abandoned mine shaft.”

Set the Scene with Sound

My goal in describing settings is to let the reader feel like he or she is living a scene with the main character. Sounds aids me enormously in creating that illusion.

Rae sets a trap for whoever has been leaving her threatening notes, waiting in her apartment one night when she has made it look like she’s not at home. Since it’s February, the apartment gets dark quickly, giving me an opportunity to appeal to the sense of sound.

  • “As the courthouse chimed 7:00”
  • Rae’s apartment is a finished room over a garage. Her landlady’s “car chugged into the garage beneath me.”
  • “A meow drifted up to me.”

The winter setting allowed me to add descriptions like:

  • “I crunched down the drive”
  • During a thaw, “the ground squished beneath my boot with every step”
  • “Cars and trucks ground by on the salt-covered streets.”

How do you use the sense of sound in your writing? What tips do you have for writing about the sense of sound?

4 thoughts on “Writing about the Sense of Sound

Add yours

  1. JPC, thanks for a reminder to write using my sense of hearing!

    Though not born and raised in the Buckeye state, I’ve lived here for many years. Best wishes and prayers for a happy and godly writing career!


  2. You seem to have a knack for writing sounds. Your descriptions of sound make me feel like I’m in the story. One thing I’m doing in my WIP is showing the characters’ responses to sound. For instance, during stressful moments (it’s a novel about lifeguards, but not like Baywatch), one character is very annoyed and distracted by sounds. He’ll hear a mom screaming and think, “Too much noise. Somebody, take her out so I can focus.” In this case, highlighting how the character reacts to certain sounds is helping me flesh out his personality.

    1. Thank you! That’s a great idea–to have a character’s reaction to an overload of a sense. My husband actually has that problem to sound. When my whole family comes over for a holiday, at some point, he usually needs to recuperate in a quiet bedroom for a short time.

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