Consider how you spend your day: seeing the sun slant across the floor in your room, smelling that first cup of hazelnut coffee, touching your silky comforter with your hands or that small nubbly rug by your bed with your feet, hearing the birds just beyond your window whistling because spring is finally in the air. Our days are filled with sensory impressions, and yet in our fiction, our characters often experience the worlds we create for them with only two senses: seeing and touch.
Why not add what your characters hear to the mix? The results can be powerful says Joelle Anthony, author of the YA novels Restoring Harmony and The Right & the Real, who also teaches a workshop called “Adding Sensory Detail to Your Fiction.” *
Paying more attention to what characters hear — and equally important, how it makes them feel and take action — can enrich a story and give it more dimension (see Roasted Figs). To help you get more in touch with sound and the emotions it evokes, Joelle suggests an exercise:
Start by choosing an emotion: joy, anger, sorrow. Then close your eyes and as Joelle puts it, “conjure up all the sounds that make you feel that emotion” and jot them down. Joy might make you of a baby’s soft, peaceful breathing or crickets humming on a warm summer night. Now, pick one sound and write a paragraph about it, detailing what it sounds like and how it makes you feel emotionally. Then do this same exercise for your characters. Pick a sound they might love or hate and bring those sounds into your story, using the emotions the sounds evoke in your character to show the reader more about who they are and what they care about.
What a great idea! I can already think of lots of ways to bring more sound into my novel. How about you? Why not try Joelle’s exercise and see what happens? And write on!
* Note: This post is based on an article by Joelle Anthony called “Is Anyone Listening?” in the Jan/Feb 2014 SCBWI Bulletin. For more on Joelle, visit joelleanthony.com.