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?

Writing Tip — Writing with Senses: Writing about the Sense of Sound

nice-1763660_1280Sound may be the second most popular sense writers evoke. Below are three ways to enhance your writing about the sense of sound.


I love it when an author describes how a character sounds. Dr. Watson often stated that the voice of Sherlock Holmes was strident. Is the voice high-pitched? A scratchy bass? Carries a heavy accent? Does the character talk fast or drawl? It’s now considered amateurish to have a line of dialogue and accompany it with a tag, such as “he roared”, “she squeaked”, or “he snarled.” So I have to get creative to let my readers know how a character sounds.

  • “His snarl forced the other man to rear back.”
  • “His roar would have done ten lions proud.”
  • “He talked as fast as a flock of woodpeckers at work.”

If you have a character who loves music, you can have songs or tunes running through her mind to reveal her feelings about other characters and situations. By the way, you can use the titles of songs but you can not use the lyrics of copyrighted songs. You can get inventive and have your character create her own lyrics to fit familiar tunes. A few years ago, my kids loved the middle grade mystery series Jigsaw Jones. Jigsaw’s partner Mila would make up lyrics appropriate to the story, using tunes of well-known children’s songs.

A character with musical talent could also describe sounds in musical terms.

  • Her staccato, piccolo voice clashed with her husband’s mellow cello.
  • The gate squeaked like a first-grader’s first stroke on a violin.

All my stories, so far, have significant sections set in rural areas. Working in the sounds is important because nature is never quiet. In face, when nature gets quiet, something strange is going on ( Speculative fiction, anyone?) Bird songs signal what season a story is taking place. My backyard is home to many mourning doves. Their plaintive call would work well in a scene if I wanted to underline a melancholy tone. I often write about the sound of the wind. Where I live, the air is rarely still.

How do you use sound in your writing?

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