Posted by: reneewildes1 | January 31, 2017

The 6 Senses – SOUND

Imagine how flat a world with no sound would be.
No laughter, no music, no dogs barking or bird songs or night crickets or frogs. Imagine lightning but no thunder. A volcano or earthquake or tidal wave without the roar. The white foam of surf pounding on the rocks without the crash. Rain getting things wet but no pitter-patter on the roof. Snow turning things white without the hiss.
How would you know the water was hot enough without the kettle screeching?
How would you know you approached the rattlesnake without the rattle to warn you?
Now imagine a story with no sound. Inconceivable! Yet this is one sense that is often overlooked or underworked.
Just for fun, go sit in your backyard, close your eyes, and LISTEN. Can you hear the wind rustling through the tree branches, birds chirping, cars driving by, the kid on the skateboard, the neighbor hammering on his latest wood-working project?
Come back inside. Close your eyes when you climb the stairs. Do the stairs creak? Open a cupboard door. Do the hinges squeak? Are you cursed with a washer or dryer that’s slightly unbalanced and dances around and thumps while it works? Do you have a faucet that constantly drip-drip-drips? Can you hear the hum of the refrigerator? The computer?
paladinImagine horseback riding. Listen to the clop of hooves, the ringing of metal shoes on stone or pavement, the creak of your leather saddle, the horse snorting and blowing, the buzzing of flies, the hiss of a swishing tail striking your legs. Imagine the crunch of an apple or a carrot.
Imagine your character walking through a fresh-air market or a fair or the zoo on a breezy day. What kinds or animals are there? Can you identify them by their calls alone? Imagine the awnings flapping in the breeze, the hawkers calling out their wares.
Listen to the voices. Smooth tenor or rich baritone or deep bass? Light and high-pitched or low and sultry? Nasal? Whiney? Twangy? Do they wheeze or drawl or hiss? Listen for regional dialect, cadence. Do the voices start out slow and speed up as they get more excited/agitated? Do they start out lower and get higher as they get more excited/agitated? Do they murmur, or whisper?
new carIs your cat purring or hissing? Is your dog whining or growling? Does the engine run smoothly or is it sputtering or missing? Does your character prefer classical or jazz or rock?
Sounds add depth, add richness, add realism. They put your reader RIGHT THERE. Sound comes in layers. Close your eyes. What do you hear first? What’s the loudest? Now “filter” that out. What do you hear next? What else?
I’m sitting on my bed with my laptop. I can hear the pop & sizzle of hamburger browning on the stove in the kitchen (my husband’s making tacos for supper). One of the cats is meowing and scratching at the closet door where we keep the cat food. My Chow Chow Abby just strolled past the bedroom door – the tags on her collar jingle, then clank against the metal water bowl as she starts lapping up a drink.  My wash machine just finished filling—there was hissing, then a thunk, now it’s agitating—I can tell by the tap dance on the floor. (I have one of THOSE machines.) The blower for the heat just kicked on.
Some Fiction Books That Feature SOUND Examples
In Mercedes Lackey’s “Arrows of the Queen” Talia explains how she used to room in the attic and knew how to dress for the day by listening for the sound of snow/hail/rain hitting the roof.
Terry Brooks’ “Sword of Shannara” is chock-full, for three specific examples stand out:
·         When they go through the “Corridor of Winds” and they’re nearly driven insane by the screams of the Banshees
·         When Allanon summons the shade of Bremen and all the other dead souls start shrieking as Bremen appears
·         When they have to get past the gnome clan gathering, and all the drums and chanting to the gods going on, when Hendel has the play decoy so everyone else can get through the pass
The final battle scene in Serenity (I have the novelization)—between the crash of the ship and the battle w/the Reavers – screams, growls, tearing metal and gunfire
In AC Crispin’s “Starbridge” there’s the static of the alien transmissions, the whoosh when the airlocks deploy, the dry snapping when someone’s arm breaks in a fight, the “you’re out of O2” klaxons
The world is FULL of sounds. Your books should be, too—even if the surrounding silence is so profound your characters can hear themselves breathing and their hearts beating…
You don’t need a lot.  For example, in HEDDA’S SWORD Chapter 4:

HeddasSword72LG            Maleta cursed her decision to flee the paladin at the Broken Blade.  What had come over her?  She had no logical reason to bolt and every reason to stay.  Where was her head?  She’d used up most of her supplies, but declined restocking at Nerthus’ Abbey.  She preferred traveling light and swift to being overburdened with gear.  But hunting had been poor, and now she paid for that decision. 
            She crouched down under the bare tangled branches of a winterberry bush and drew a knife.  The berries were long gone, but the inner bark was undisturbed.  Not very nutritious, but it was good for killing hunger pangs.  At least for a while.  She scraped away a couple of strips and surveyed the fog-shrouded gulch below her.
            Typical of the land itself, the veil was both blessing and curse.  While she could slide through unseen, so could her quarry.  The Wolf had chosen well, forsaking the safer high ground for the cover of the mists.  In the spring, hiding in such a low-lying area was an invitation to disaster, with the rains and flash-floods.  But late in the fall, with perpetual fog, it was perfect.
            Maleta chewed one of the strips of bark.  Her mouth puckered.  Grimacing at the bitter taste, she drew her sword and eased her way down the steep rocky embankment.  The constant dampness kept fallen leaves from crackling underfoot, but she couldn’t avoid sending small pebbles tumbling with every step
            North or south?  She crouched in the leaves and looked both ways.  North.  The slight breeze whispered at her back.  There’d be no way to scent a campfire or cooking food until she was on top of it, but there was nothing she could do about that.  She couldn’t depend on sight or scent.  Sound and sensing would have to do. 
            He was nearby, she could feel it.  She headed up the gulch.  Step.  Stop.  Scan.  Minutes felt like hours; with the cloud cover overhead and the mists swirling around her, there was no way to mark the passage of time.
            Something moved ahead.  The mist saved her as an arrow hissed past just off to the right.  She dropped to a crouch and froze, silent, watching but not seeing.  Her heart pounded, making her dizzy.  She strained to listen for the slightest sound, a clue to his whereabouts.
            A twig snapped somewhere in front of her.  Maleta glanced around.  There was no cover save the fog.  She gripped the pommel of her sword tighter and held her breath, listening for the angle of the person’s approach.
            A shadow coalesced out of the mists, taking on the proportions of a man in dark leathers.  Her ears caught the merest jingle of chain-mail.  She tensed.  When he was close enough for Maleta to judge his height by the thatch of gray hair atop his head, she charged.  She swung her sword low, hoping to take his legs out from under him.
            He must have heard her blade, because his own was there to block her crippling blow.  Lightning-fast, he spun and swung at her neck, showing no mercy at her gender.  She dropped, rolled and thrust up toward his belly.  He turned; his chain-mail deflected the blow aimed at the vulnerable spot just below his breastplate.  The black wolf on that breastplate mocked her.
            It was a strange fight, silent save for harsh breathing and the ring of clashing weapons, a desperate dance of death in the fog.  But his age caught up with him; his parries slowed a fraction.  Maleta began forcing him back toward his own camp.  He rushed and feigned, trying to get past her, but she held her ground.  Pressing, always forward, to the edge of his encampment.  The spitted carcass of a coney rested over a sliver of a fire crackling in the center.
            When the heel of his boot caught on a stray rock, his ankle turned.  He buckled afore her.  She knocked his blade aside and laid the burning edge of Hedda’s Sword against his throat.  The need to kill him choked her.
            She felt The Wolf shudder at the touch of the consecrated Goddess-metal, as all his sins rushed back to haunt him.  His eyes widened at her setting-sun breastplate shimmering in the firelight.  The knowledge of his imminent execution was in his murky green eyes as he looked up at her from the frozen ground, but his voice was matter-of-fact when he spoke.  “Fact I’m not dead yet means ye need answers, Hedda’s Own.”
            “You killed my parents!” Maleta burst out, glaring down at the scarred, silver-haired man.  She stopped, appalled at herself.  What had she just said?  That wasn’t Hedda’s script!
            Overhead, thunder rumbled.


  1. When you’re adding this sense to your story, the character’s moods and preferences definitely come into play – i.e reaction to a crying baby or a barking dog depends on whether the character likes or loathes babies and dogs. Use soft, pleasant descriptors to indicate liking and harsh, caustic, abrasive ones to convey a dislike or irritation. For instance, an alarm clock would be especially jarring if one is NOT a morning person, just went to bed an hour ago, or is hungover…

    You can also vary your level of intensity. I know with our Chow, Abby, a soft “rff” is for when she sees the old lady next door, a “woowoowoo” is for anyone walking on HER sidewalk in front of the house, and a T-Rex rumble coming from the depths of Moria up through her paws is reserved exclusively for a certain neighbor’s German Shepherd–and for the pizza guy. So you can “read the local paper” by listening to the dog…

  2. I use music as a cultural doorway for story world-building. Each
    story has a unique feel, and unique music. DUALITY was Medaieval
    Baebes. HEDDA’S SWORD is eerie, soaring, sweeping Nordic –
    Hedningarna, Varttina, and Garmarna. LYCAN TIDES will be Leahy and
    Lunasa (traditional Celtic). RIEVER’S HEART will be Wimme (Laplander)
    and Spirit Nation (Native American). My husband Todd walks in and
    goes “What are they SAYING?” and I say “I have NO idea, but it’s COOL.”

    And then I have specific bands for unique situations. Enya for love
    scenes. Folk singer Kate Price for thoughtful or romantic moments.
    For action and battle scenes I have my gothic German metal band Axel
    Rudi Pell, with song titles like “The Gate of the Seven Seals” “Carls
    of Black” “Masquerade Ball” and “Sea of Evil.” In extreme situations
    I’ve been known to resurrect Warlock with “I Rule the Ruins” and “Kiss
    of Death” but even I have to take Doro Pesch’s voice in small doses.
    Great dark imagery, though. Todd hears those and it’s, “Who are we
    killing off today?”

    Poor lad led a sheltered life before he met me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: