I stood outside my front door earlier today, searching for inspiration for this post. At first, I was distracted by my neighbors’ children talking loudly and very excitedly over their game. Then, I heard them laugh. I’ve always said my three favorite sounds are rain falling, cats purring, and children laughing. Today, was no exception. Their laughter not only brightened my day, but it also made me realize what I wanted to write about.
Writers are advised to use all five sense in their writing. One of the sometimes forgotten senses is that of hearing. Most writers will have dialogue and may give indications of how a character’s voice sounds. They will also add obvious sounds that move the plot forward, such as a gunshot or slamming door. But too often, they let other opportunities to add noises slide by. Yet, allowing your characters to hear the sounds around them adds so much to your story.
Something as simple as waves crashing in the distance, the thump of a drum, or even a preternatural silence can bring the reader into the scene in subtle ways that visual descriptions cannot. The type of music the character listens to can show their personality, or it can be used to break a stereotype. (Maybe the rebellious teen loves Beethoven!) Characters can find sounds soothing, jarring, joyful, or annoying. The possibilities are endless.
The sense of hearing also gives you the chance to use the literary device I love saying: onomatopoeia. For those who don’t remember from their English classes, these are words that represent the sound being described, like sizzle, chirp, or ruff.
If you have difficulty imagining what your character would hear, all you have to do is stand still, close your eyes, and listen to their world in your mind. Here’s an example from my novel, Fool’s Gold. My heroine, Melissa, is on the back porch of a hut in the middle of the Isthmus of Panama.
“She found a wicker rocking chair that smelled as though it harbored some kind of fungus or mold. Exhausted from their long trek, she sat anyway. Somewhere nearby, a creek gurgled. Forest creatures continued their squawks and screeches as if the very idea of sleep held no meaning. Melissa made a futile attempt to scan the dark forest. Anything or anyone could be lurking, scurrying, or stalking beyond the lantern’s circle of light.”
When you’re writing your next scene, don’t forget your characters have ears!
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