You’ve probably heard the admonition that writers should “show, not tell,” meaning that we should allow readers to visualize what is happening rather than flat out telling them. One way to help make a story come alive is to appeal to the readers’ five senses. Let them see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the story.
Whenever I hear that, I visualize a child’s board book with those touchy-feely-smelly inserts that teach them basic science. The same concept applies to written words: let readers interact with the story through their own experience. Hint at things rather than painting the full picture and the reader will fill in the details based on the ideas your words invoke.
I find it hardest to appeal to the sense of sound. There are obvious images, like a dog barking to indicate an intruder, or someone crying to show sadness. Those are so well-known, though, that they’ve become clichéd, and therefore unoriginal. So what’s a writer to do?
Think about the sounds you hear as you go about your day. Take notes on how they make you feel, or how someone else reacts. Perhaps a ringtone reminds you of your first boyfriend, or a train whistle makes your gut clench with fear because your best friend was hit trying to cross the tracks ahead of the freight train and his car stalled at the crucial moment. Insert such sounds into the story and, with appropriate use of backstory, it can enrich the setting and characterization.
In a future post, I’ll talk about some of the other sensory details you might consider. The main purpose of this one, however, is to allow me to use the word tintinnabulation.
|Noun: tintinnabulation – the sound of a bell ringing; “the distinctive ring of the church bell”; “the ringing of the telephone”; “the tintinnabulation that so voluminously swells from the ringing and the dinging of the bells”–E. A. Poe|
(Definition from: http://www.tfd.com/tintinnabulation )
Whenever I hear that word, I think of the poem by Edgar Allen Poe called The Bells. The use of sound in that poem focuses on the different messages a ringing bell can have, and how it affects those who hear it. From the tinkling of sleigh bells to the sorrowful tolling of iron bells, the noises portray a scene most readers could envision. It’s an excellent example of how sound can be used to touch the emotions of readers.
Can you think of other examples where sound might be used to enrich a story? Do you have a favorite “sound” word? What “sound” really grates on your nerves?