“We’ve all been aware of the five senses since childhood, but so often they’re not used to their full potential in fiction. We all tend to include the easy and obvious ones — what your character sees and touches. But what about what your characters hear? Or more importantly, how does what they hear make them feel, react, or take action?”
Adding sound to create emotion — an intriguing idea, isn’t it? Joelle Anthony is the author of several young adult novels and teaches writing workshops including one called Adding Sensory Detail to Your Fiction (www.joelleanthony.com). In a brief article titled “Is Anyone Listening?” Joelle offered helpful advice on tapping the potential of sound in storytelling:
Listen to the sounds of your world: As a first step, sit quietly for a few minutes and take in the sounds around you. If you do this attentively, you’re likely to hear layers of sound ebbing and flowing: A refrigerator whirring nearby, a plane engine rumbling overhead, birds singing, cars passing. You get the idea.
Consider the emotional effect of sound: As Joelle puts it, “Sound evokes emotion, but in particular, it evokes different emotions in different people….So don’t just add sounds to your fiction, use them to add dimension to your characters’ world.” Consider a lawnmower: Its rumbling sound might conjure up lazy summer days and family barbecues — all happy memories — for one person, but for someone else, hearing one rev up might be irritating and intrusive.
Practice adding auditory elements to your stories: In order to “enrich your characters and propel your story forward,” Joelle offers a quick exercise to jump start your ability to add emotion-enhancing auditory elements to your writing:
1) Start by choosing an emotion: joy, sorrow, anger, etc.
2) Once you’ve selected one, close your eyes and conjure up all the sounds that make you feel that emotion. When you’ve done this, jot them down. Joy, for example, might call to mind birds singing in the morning, a crackling fire, a baby’s laughter.
3) Choose one sound and write a paragraph describing what it sounds like, and how it makes you feel emotionally and physically. Joelle gave the example of the beep, beep of an alarm clock. Here’s part of what she wrote: “Oh, my God! That stupid alarm! AGAIN! Not mine, but my brother’s. Every friggin’ morning his alarm goes off, usually until I scream through my bedroom wall at him…” And she added, “Just writing this has caused my stomach to tense up and my breath to quicken, and it’s been thirty years since the last time this happened!” The message? Sounds can invoke intense, even violent, reactions.
4) Now, do this exercise for each of your characters. “Find a sound they love, hate, makes them happy, etc. and work those sounds into your stories, using emotions to show your readers more about your characters and to make them dimensional people everyone cares about.” Great advice — write on!