When we think of the word sound, the last thing we may associate it with are words and phrases. However, sound and writing go hand-in-hand. Recently, I learned from a writing class how important sounds can be for strengthening prose—what a shocker!
In this article, I’ll discuss the various definitions and techniques that are often used. Many thanks to Mark Nichol for the awesome advice!
Alliteration is the pattern of multiple words in the same phrase with the same consonant sound. Here’s an example:
“Squaring our performances with our promises, we will proceed to the fulfillment of the party’s mission.”
Notice how performances and promises ring together? It provokes the reader subconsciously, so to associate those two concepts together and highlighting a theme of success. Process and party could also be associated.
“They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places.”
In this passage, distant, different, and difficult highlights the arduous adventure being described.
Similar to alliteration, assonance involves the repetition of certain vowels, especially in stressed syllables, but with different consonant sounds.
“Men sell the wedding bells.”
“Go and mow the lawn.”
In the above examples, sell and bells followed by go and mow are what highlight the assonance.
Can you guess what this term implies? That’s right, the repetition of consonants, particularly at the end of a word.
“Their maid has spread the word of their deed.”
“Cheer and beer go with sorrow and tomorrow.”
Here, you have maid, spread, word, and deed. Cheer and beer with sorrow and tomorrow make another pair. The word pairs doesn’t have to rhyme, only share the final sound—rhyming comes later. 🙂
When you have words that translate as sound effects, this is onomatopoeia.
“A splash disturbed the hush of the droning afternoon.”
“Her heels clacked on the hardwood floor.”
Repetition is, well, repeating a word or phrase to emphasize the message of a passage.
“When we arrive at the store, we will buy something. When we buy something, we will pay for it. When we pay for it, we will take it home.”
“When I find you, I will catch you. When I catch you, I will cook you. When I cook you, I will eat you.”
These examples creates a percussive effect on the reader’s mind to push the meaning of the passage.
This one should be a given, or else the writer may be forgiven (hahaha ehem…). Poetry often makes use of rhymes, but normal prose can too! In fact, here’s a nifty tool I discovered that helps with rhyme words. Enjoy.
With rhythm, the prose is altered to create tempo.
“The eager coursing of the strident hounds
And the sudden pursuit of the mounted men
Drove the bounding prey ever on.”
Here’s an example taken from Dr. Seuss:
“I’m Yertle the Turtle!
Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler
of all that I see!”
Shorter tempo creates a faster rhythm, and vice versa. With the proper rhythm, sentence length, and prose structure, a writer can add depth and even emotion to prose.
When we describe sounds, we lean on the other four senses (touch, taste, smell, and sight) to paint a picture. Here’s a list of ways to describe sound in writing. Credit goes to Amanda Patterson.
Words Describing General Sounds
- audible – a sound that is loud enough to hear
- broken – a sound that has spaces in it
- emit – to make a sound
- grinding – a sound of one hard thing moving against another
- hushed – a sound that is quiet
- inaudible – a sound that is difficult to hear
- monotonous – a sound that is always the same and never gets louder or quieter, or higher or lower
- muffled – a sound that is not easy to hear because it is blocked by something
- plaintive – a sound that has a sad quality
- rhythmic – a sound that has a clear, regular pattern
- staccato – a sound where each word or sound is clearly separate
Describing Pleasing Sounds
- dulcet – soft and pleasant
- lilting – a sound that has a rising and falling pattern
- listenable – easy to listen to
- mellow – a soft, smooth, pleasant sound
- melodic – beautiful sound
- musical – sounds like music
- pure – a clear, beautiful sound
- rich – a sound that is strong in a pleasant way
- soft – quiet and peaceful
- sonorous – a sound that is deep and strong in a pleasant way
- sweet – a pleasant sound
Describing Noisy Sounds
- at full blast – as loudly as possible
- almighty – used for emphasising how loud something is
- brassy – a sound that is loud and unpleasant
- deafening – a sound so loud you cannot hear anything else
- ear-splitting – extremely loud
- explosive – a sound that is loud and unexpected
- howling – a continuous, low, loud noise
- insistent – a continuous, loud, strong noise
- loud – a sound that is strong and very easy to hear
- noisy – a sound that is full of noise
- percussive – a sound that is short, like someone hitting a drum
- piercing – a sound that is very loud, high, and unpleasant
- pulsating – strong, regular pattern
- raucous – rude, violent, noisy
- resounding – a sound that is loud and that continues for a while
- riotous – lively and noisy
- roaring – a deep, loud noise
- rowdy – noisy and causing trouble
- sharp – a sound that is sudden and loud
- shrill – a sound that is loud, high, and unpleasant
- thundering – extremely loud
- thunderous – loud
- tumultuous – a sound that includes noise, excitement, activity, or violence
- uproarious – extremely noisy
Words That Help You Show And Not Tell
- babble – a gentle, pleasant sound of water as it moves along in a river
- bang – to move, making loud noises
- beep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
- blare – to make a loud and unpleasant noise
- blast – to make a loud sound with a car horn
- bleep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
- boom – to make a deep loud sound that continues for some time
- caterwaul – an unpleasant loud high noise
- chime – a high ringing sound like a bell or set of bells
- chink – a high ringing sound when knocked together, or to make something do this
- clack -to make a short loud sound like one hard object hitting against another
- clang – a loud, metallic sound
- clank – a short, loud sound
- clash – a loud, metallic sound
- clatter – a series of short, sharp noises
- click – a short sound like the sound when you press a switch
- clink – to make the short high sound of glass or metal objects hitting each other, or to cause objects to make this sound
- cluck – to make a short, low sound with your tongue
- crash – a sudden loud noise, as if something is being hit
- creak – if something creaks, especially something wooden, it makes a high noise when it moves or when you put weight on it
- drone – to make a low continuous noise
- fizz – a soft sound that small gas bubbles make when they burst
- groan – a long, low, sound
- growl – a low, unpleasant noise
- grunt – to make a short low sound in your throat and nose at the same time
- gurgle – the low sound water makes when it is poured quickly from a bottle
- honk – to make a loud noise using a horn, especially the horn of a car
- hoot – to make a short loud sound as a warning
- mewl – crying with a soft, high sound
- moan – a long, low sound
- neigh – to make a high loud sound like a horse’s neigh
- peal – if a bell peals, or if someone peals it, it makes a loud sound
- peep – if a car’s horn peeps, it makes a sound
- ping – to make a short high sound like the sound of a small bell
- pipe – to make a very high sound, or to speak in a very high voice
- pop – a sudden noise like a small explosion
- putter – a short, quiet, low sound at a slow speed
- ring – to make a bell produce a sound
- roar – to make a continuous, very loud noise
- rumble – a continuous deep sound
- scream – to make a very loud high noise
- scream – to make a very loud high noise
- screech – to make a loud, high, and unpleasant noise
- scrunch – to make a loud noise like something being crushed
- sigh – a long, soft, low sound
- squeak – to make a short, high noise
- squeal – to make a long high sound
- squee – to make a loud high noise because you are excited or happy
- thrum- to make a low regular noise like one object gently hitting another many times
- thud – a dull sound when falling or hitting something
- thump – to hit against something with a low loud sound
- tinkle – to make a high, ringing sound
- wail – to make a long, high sound
- wheeze – a high sound, as though a lot of air is being pushed through it
- whine – a high, loud sound
- whirr – a fast, repeated, quiet sound
- whisper – to make a quiet, gentle sound
- whistle – to make a high sound by forcing air through your mouth in order to get someone’s attention
- yelp – a short, loud, high sound, usually caused by excitement, anger, or pain
- yowl – a long, loud, unhappy sound or complaint
Writing sound is a fun process that adds depth and life to prose. Becareful not to overdo it, though. We should make sure sounds make sense, have a purpose, and relate to our writing. In more serious genres, less is better. Poetry and inane novels (like Dr. Seuss) can get away with it more.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Years!
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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, thanks for reading.
—Ed R. White
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2 thoughts on “Describing Sounds in Writing”
Very much informative. Thanks for sharing.
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Thanks for the comment and kind words!
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