Writing Sounds

Remember that hilarious video of two men talking, but the only word they say is ‘Dude’? The different inflections tell the listener what they are talking about.

But how does that translate to writing?

If that conversation were to be written, punctuation would help.



Then there are dialog tags. “Dude,” he said, on a long exhalation of beer-infused breath.

The idea intrigues me. I’m positive I miss opportunities by not thinking about the sound of a story. I don’t mean reading your work out loud, which is of course important. I mean, how do you convey sound without being bland (‘the car door slammed’) or corny (POW!!! Batman’s fist hit Robin’s jaw)?

If you do an internet search on writing sounds, you get some interesting hits. I found a few sites that actually had sounds attached to writing, where someone had done studies and assigned sounds to things like a pencil on paper.

I got distracted by that one.

Then there’s Onomatopoeia. At its most basic that means using sound to show the noise, as in hiss, meow, or POW!!! There’s a more subtle version of this where the word alludes to sound. Like Eeyore’s name in Winnie the Pooh. His name is a quiet nod to the sound a donkey makes. Think about that honking, braying sound. Can’t you hear ‘Eeeeeyooorrreee’ in there?

I got distracted reading up on Onomatopoeia, too.

With all the internet searching though, I didn’t really find what I was looking for. How do you imply sound through words, without telling the reader what something sounds like?

Well, body language works. Someone speaks and the other person cringes and covers their ears.

Description, of course, implies sound. If I said ‘fingernails on a blackboard’ you’d hear that sound. I think, though, that using that tool can cause writing to slide into clichés. And one can’t forget that too much description gets boring. Plus, description means you’re writing what you see, rather than what you hear, if that makes sense.

I’ve tried closing my eyes to eliminate the sense of sight and forcing myself to focus on just sounds. As I listened, I tried to figure out how I would translate sound into words.

I got queasy.

So I don’t know. Guess I’ll just keep using a mix of all of the above, hoping that somehow the reader, using imagination, can hear the wind in the trees or the scary sounds outside the door late at night.

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