The Audio Sense in Writing

As writers we try to use all the human senses to help make our words more real to our readers.

It is a known fact that the human race uses the sense of sight more than any other of the five (or six) senses. In fact, statistics show that around 83% of us use sight as our primary sense.  Next is hearing at around 11%, touch at 3.5%, smell at 1.5% and taste at 1%.

When we write, we primarily paint word pictures. We describe how people look, what they are wearing, and the scene around them. A good writer will also incorporate the other senses as much as possible. Let’s take the next most commonly used sense, hearing.

A good exercise is to always ask yourself, what are the typical sounds you hear when you step outside or stand at an open window? Do you hear the distant hum of traffic? The deafening roar of traffic? A train whistling? People yelling? Sirens? If you are way out in the country you may hear the wind whispering through the pines or a coyote yipping.

How about complete silence. Have you ever experienced a place where absolutely nothing is stirring? I’ve only felt it once, in the Namib desert in Africa, in a place called Sossusvlei (meaning dead end) where the highest sand dunes in the world rise from a sandy, dry salt pan. We were standing at the edge of the narrow Sesriem Canyon one morning and the cliche term “silence is deafening” came to mind. Absolute silence really is quite an awe inspiring experience.

Sesriem Canyon 

I now live in rural north Florida, so when I go into my yard on any given day, the most typical sounds are dogs barking, horses neighing, cattle lowing and roosters crowing. Our property is thickly treed so add birds singing or a woodpecker tapping on a rotting tree trunk, and leaves rustling in the breeze. We have a pond, and the frogs here make a whistling noise–they don’t croak or say “ribbid”. Crickets often chirp, and cicadas scream in summer when it’s hot.

Typical human sounds in my neighborhood include shouting, loud country music blaring from external speakers, and on most days, someone in the neighborhood fires a gun. Traffic is distant and intermittent, but may include the hum of a car or truck, the roar of an eighteen-wheeler, or the rumble of a motorcycle gang.

I’d love to hear your comments about the sounds where you live.

2 thoughts on “The Audio Sense in Writing

  1. Great reminder to use the senses when writing. I'm often guilty of using only sight and I have to remind myself that the way to transport readers to the place of my story is to use those sounds, smells, and textures they don't have in their normal life. Like maybe the pungent smell of horse manure as the heroine navigates the tippy boards placed across the muddy street of a historical western town.

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