Writing relies heavily on telling the reader descriptions: clothing, appearances, landscapes, cities, movements, clues for time of day, and such. But there is so much more to the world of your story than this!
Plus, it is telling and isn’t this supposed to be “show don’t tell?”
A good story pulls the reader into the world by sharing the experiences of the characters. The best description is what the main characters sees. But real experience is beyond sight!
This writing tip series is dedicated to deepening the setting of your story by utilizing senses other than sight. Because we rely on it far too much as writers! Bring your character and world to life for readers with immersive descriptions.
In part 1, we looked at smell and how it can enhance the worldbuilding, character and creature descriptions, and create tension. Now it is on to sound and hearing!
Sound is already fairly common in most fantasy stories. Dialogue is, after all, based on hearing! Characters speak roughly, with humor, affection and so many other emotions that are conveyed by tone of voice. Plus, there is the clang of swords, rushing water of streams, and the huffing breath of great dragons.
But what else can you do with sound?
Close your eyes. Writing relies too heavily on visuals anyway. Focus on what you hear, because unless you are in a soundproof room, you will hear something. And really, even in a soundproof vault you still have your breath and pulse thudding in your ears!
The sounds of the world around you vary with season, time of day, and weather. Knowing, or creating, those variations will give your reader clues to each component as well as make them feel more real. Do crickets, or some other creature, chirp at night? The fire crackles as the adventurers camp in the evening. In the distance, does the gust front from an approaching storm rip through trees with the oncoming sound of an approaching waterfall?
The breeze rustling through grass indicates the vegetation without having to repeat what characters see of rolling plains for the tenth time. The same can be said of trickling water of small streams or waves pounding against a rocky shore. Let your characters hear the world around them and open up another perspective to the readers.
Characters and Creature Descriptions
Writer’s convey a character’s emotions through the sound of voice. While you could say a character spoke angrily, you can also say the character shouted, spat, or yelled. Tension, or intense feelings, leaks through a rough voice. But you are probably already using those tips and action tags.
How else can you enhance your character’s descriptions with sound?
Laughter is often described as ringing but it could easily be like a horn heard on a misty sea. And a character can also have the high pitched, birdlike voice. Why are we so often stuck with roughness when there is a whole world of voice tones. How would you describe the voice of your best friend or mother?
Does a mesmerizing character speak as if she were born to sing, the words rolling from her tongue so sweetly you can almost hear a harp accompanying her speech? Would that be another way to show budding love? Or does the veteran warrior have a voice like grinding rock, roughened from too many days and nights camped amid battlefields?
A characteristic sound can define a character as much as a habit or scar. I have a character who often groans in response to news. Reactions like a snort, a hearty laugh, or a typical giggle can add to a character’s description.
And the same can be said of creatures. Sure, the horses the heroes ride neigh and you might add in details of the thudding of hooves. But how does the dragon sound that the horses are running away from? Can you hear its great breath or the click of talons on stone? Do trees crack as it lunges through the forest? Pull the reader into the moment with the sound as much as the visual!
Fight scenes are quick and intense with clanging swords or the whoosh of an arrow in flight. During them, there isn’t much time to focus on sound as the character scrambles to stay alive. But before all heck explodes in violence tension can be built using sound.
Delve into the pace of approaching footsteps, the hiss of an unseen drawn sword, the low growl of a predator, or scales grating across stone. The soft exhale of a breath can be a warning of a hidden presence as much as the sound of two people in love.
Sound, just like smell, is a powerful sense that works well when you wish for an unseen threat to be noticed. But it doesn’t have to be saved for only the moments that sight fails your characters, even if those are some of the best opportunities to use it for increased tension. And remember echoes or strange auditory reflections can confuse characters, not to mention the use of traditional “secret benches” that allowed two people to hold a whispered conversation while sitting on opposite sides of a sitting area. Could two lovers be conversing secretly in public… or are they truly spies?
Use sound to immerse your reader into the world and story you’ve created, building another layer of reality into the novel. Add to your descriptions and intensity of plot with sound!
How else have you used or “seen” sound used in novels that stuck with you? Are their clues in songs sung or something else? Let me know in the comments!