Writer’s Toolbox: Observation: SOUND


“A writer needs three things: experiences, observation and imagination, any two of which, at times, any one of which, can supply the lack of others.” William Faulkner

Life is the artist’s palette. Everything is material for a writer. Use your senses and incorporate them in your writing.


Jog around your block or environment in the morning (This is just an example, choose a time and walk/run AND observe—it’s healthy and useful) What sounds can you pick out as others awake and begin their day. Are other joggers there—do they start conversations, or just nod. Glance at the houses, what makes each house different? Could you make up backgrounds for each one? What do you think goes on inside? What would you hear if you could be the proverbial fly on the wall? (Don’t obsess about this like the female on Gril on the Train.)

Try the same route on a different day, different time. What changes? How do the sounds differ if  a storm is brewing and the air is heavy with upcoming rain?

What if as you jog, you hear footfalls behind you? What if they are heavy footfalls moving rapidly toward you?  What if it is someone you don’t recognize? Or someone who makes you wary? What if you hear the heavy footfalls and you turn and no one is there?

Pay attention to sounds as you go through your normal day. If you just listened to the sounds in the office and snatches of conversation, could you tell what others are feeling? Could you label the atmosphere of your place of work just based on the sounds?

Go shopping!  But go without cash and without credit cards.  This is for your writing, not your wardrobe. Sounds vary in each store. Pick up bits of conversation, sounds unique to the store you are in. What noises are distracting? What noise could make any shopper stop? What is the personality of the store based on the sounds inside it?

How do sounds influence shoppers?  How could sounds influence your character in your WIP? Go back to the stores a different day, different time, any changes?

Go to a beach or a restaurant, a bookstore, a playground and just listen. If a beach were part of your setting, how could you show the reader (the one who lives in Utah and has never seen a beach) feel the sense of place? What sounds are part of that?

Use sound to add to your character’s world and pull the reader into that world.  If a scene includes your character’s workplace, what does he/she hear from her corner? Let the reader a peek into your character’s world by having the reader feel as though he were sitting or standing or working right next to your character.

As you revise, have you given your reader enough details to include him in the scene? Could you add sounds to make that scene more vivid?

Yum tastes!  If we had you go shopping to explore sounds, imagine what will be the ideas for tastes?  Come back next Wednesday when we will look at ways to add taste to your descriptions and we will look at ways to add to your observation through taste.

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