Writing the Five Senses: Hearing

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I’m excited to share the second part of my newest post series in which I explore how writers can use the five senses to engage the reader. Last week, I focused on the sense of sight. The post was received quite well, so be sure to check it out if you’d like to be caught up to speed!

Today, we’ll be focusing on hearing. I’ve selected excerpts from the works of fellow bloggers (with their permission) to show examples of each sense used effectively, as well as excerpts from my novel-in-the-works (with my permission) to show examples of my attempts to use each sense effectively. Buckle up for some sensory stimulation, grab a cold glass of Ginger Ale (the champagne of sodas), and enjoy!

(credit to my cousin Jordan for deeming Ginger Ale the champagne of sodas. He is a man of brilliance).

Hearing:

When delivering a speech to a crowd, you can use all of the hand gestures you want, but if your voice is stuck in a monotonous “Bueller”-like drone, you can be sure your audience will check out. Adjusting one’s voice throughout a speech helps to engage the audience because the inflection gives life to the words you’re delivering. Much the same, one can write the most beautiful imagery, but if one neglects to incorporate auditory description with the visual description, the writer has missed an opportunity to add depth to the story. Without auditory description, a passage risks coming across as lacking, or empty. Allow me to describe the scene of a park on a summer day.

“Mark sauntered through the park, in awe at the deep green of trees bursting with vivacious foliage. The simmering sun splashed its golden warmth upon joggers trotting steadily along hard-packed dirt trails. Joyful children swung and leaped along the pastel-pigmented playground.” This is a fine, functional description. The images are pleasant. Even still, if one were to include auditory description among the visuals, the picture could prove to be far more stimulating for a reader. Perhaps the trees are swaying easily in the wind. Perhaps the joggers are panting, or their shoes are pounding against the pavement. What if the children are laughing? Are the swings squeaking? Are any birds chirping? Let’s take a look at some ways a writer can tickle readers’ ears.

Stimulating hearing through precision

I find that the most impressive auditory descriptions present sound precisely. If I were to write, “Gordon beckoned his chefs to stop cooking when he heard a chirp,” the reader would be left with only a vague idea of what Gordon heard. The word “chirp”signifies a bird, but what kind of a chirp was it? Was it an alarming chirp, implying a bird loose in the kitchen? Or was it a muffled chirp, implying a bird stuck in one of the cupboards? A far more illustrative description would be, “Gordon beckoned his chefs to stop cooking when he heard a faint chirp in the distance.“Faint chirp in the distance” is a simple addition, yes, but small details often have the capacity to change the entire dynamic of a sentence or passage. The few extra words give a far better idea of the volume and location of the sound. It’s not flashy, it’s not glamorous, but it clarifies the scene a great deal.

Variably, a writer can enhance his/her expression of sound without adding a single word to embellish the sound indicator. Instead, a writer can swap an imprecise word for a precise one! Compare, “the heavy wind blew against his back” to “the heavy wind roared against his back.” “Roared” carries a far more sonorous sound than does “blew.” The wind’s intensity is cranked up a few notches by “roared” alone. Imagine what you could do by tacking on a beefy metaphor. Suddenly, your wind is alive.

So when it comes to writing sound with the intent of offering the reader a more involved soundscape, keep away from generalizations. For the sake of pace, a writer may not want to embellish a sudden sound, such as a shout, but at the very least, consider making that “shout” a “shriek.” There’s a liveliness to auditory description that shouldn’t be stifled by uninspired vocabulary.

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Stimulating hearing through dialogue

Dialogue is my favorite thing to write. Placing characters at odds in a battle of clashing quotation marks is a whole lot of fun. I enjoy the challenge of giving each and every one of them an individual voice. In crafting a character’s voice, diction plays a massive role, massive enough to warrant its own post. But there is another element of voice-crafting that can stimulate a reader’s ears: that is, giving life to a character’s vocal quality. Telling the reader how a character sounds helps to engage the auditory sense even when scenic description is on hold and dialogue is at the forefront. Take this passage from my novel-in-the-works as an example (long-time readers will likely recognize it. Forgive me for my repetition)!

“Hold on just a moment.”

At the sound of that voice, a voice harsh as whiskey’s burn, a voice cold as winter’s frost, a voice powerful as hammer’s charge, every man and woman pulled their attention from the circle of six and put it to the man standing behind Joshua. Joshua moved with the crowd, turning with apprehension to witness the man looming over him.

With an introduction like that, the reader isn’t likely to hear silence when their eyes pass over this character’s next line of dialogue. And that’s what we’re going for, right?

Sound as pacing

Using sound to dictate the pace of a passage is one of my favorite techniques to read. When done properly, the effect can be remarkably immersive. Take this passage from the first chapter of fellow blogger Eva Blaskovic’s short story, Ironclad, as an example.

I bring the shovel and hit the dirt, removing bite after bite of ground, pushing downward with my sneakered foot. In the mulchy soil, even the force of my light weight is enough to hasten the process.

I’d planned this for a month, yet now that the time draws near, apprehension seeps into my limbs as surely as this darn mist dampens my clothes.

“Dig, Emilio,” mi tío, my uncle, would say. “The hours till dawn grow short.”

I dig, heave the dirt, breathe, and dig some more, until I find my rhythm. Dig—heave—breathe. Eva BlaskovicIronclad, Chapter 1 (Mi Tio)

The pacing technique encapsulated in “dig—heave—breathe” section conveys Emilio’s digging without fastening it with redundant description. The rhythm works well in part due to the initial, more thorough description of Emilio’s digging. Eva’s use of the word “bite” to describe the sound of digging paired with the details of “mulchy soil” contributes an extra layer of sound to the passage, not to mention a vivid image. To harken back to an earlier point, using the word “bite” to describe the sound of dirt being heaved from the ground is precise and original. Eva’s decision to have Emilio recall his uncle’s words likewise helps to fill the soundscape on the page.

Final Point: One can stimulate the reader’s sense of hearing by using precise sound indicators, by attributing vocal quality to characters’ voices, and by pacing a passage using auditory details. A fair mix of these techniques can do wonders to fill the soundscape on your page!

What do you think? Did any of these methods/examples strike you as effective? Fellow writers, how do you go about stimulating a reader’s sense of hearing? I value your feedback like I value my Ginger Ale!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

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31 thoughts on “Writing the Five Senses: Hearing

  1. I found this sense a particularly interesting one to tackle. I have honestly not given much thought on “sounds” in reading. I found myself having to think back through previous experiences to recall when this sense was most stimulated during reading a book. I realize now that my absolute favorite horror reads rely on sound quite a bit! Fascinating that I have never paid this so much mind. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to rack my brain too! Hearing is not a sense at the forefront of my reading experience. I don’t read horror, but I would imagine that the genre would lend itself to sound! What a keen insight. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Sound is a subtle element for sure. It’s not nearly as predominant as sight or touch, but it’s there! Sound is not something I thought much about either until I decided to write up this series :D.

      Danielle makes a great point about horror, doesn’t she? Things that go bump in the night are scary even when they’re only conveyed through the page. I’m sincerely glad you’re enjoying the posts!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pretty nice that you go hunting for other blogger’s work to give examples for all these strategies. This was really well explained too! In fact, I couldn’t help but hear Gordon screaming and swearing the whole time. By the way, what do you think about the use of exclamation points, like… a lot of them (!!!!!) when writing? I’ve seen some authors do that, and found it quite disturbing. And also the use of capital letters to make it even more obvious that a character is… screaming. Do you approve of these strategies? If yes, do you think there’s an efficient way to use them or is it all the same?

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hardly have to hunt! 😀 The stellar individuals I follow consistently produce share-worthy material. I’m glad you feel I explained well! Gordon is a favorite of mine, especially as of late.

      As for liberal use of the exclamation point, I figure using it once in a blue moon for humor’s sake would be fine, but its had better be damn funny! Using “!!!!!” that to convey screaming would be a no for me in a serious context.

      As for capital letters, Robert Jordan occasionally puts the dialogue spoken by his bad guy in caps, but at this point in the story, the bad guy manifests as a formless voice (think Voldemort before he’s cooked back to life in the graveyard). Otherwise, I personally wouldn’t use caps to convey shouting, and I wouldn’t consider writing in all caps to be good form. A contemporary YA fiction novel may be able to get away with it, but anything with more maturity doesn’t need it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nataliaazar

    Awesome post, J.J.! Love this ‘Senses’ series. Keep ’em coming! And lol of course you had to add Kitchen Nightmares in there. Good choice, Gordon Ramsey’s my inspiration and I want to be just like him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice of you to stop by, Nat. The next Senses post is going to be about Smell. I’ve pulled a brilliant example from author M.L.S Weech I’m excited to share!

      And Gordon is the man.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Writing the Five Senses: Touch – J.J. Azar

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