Five Senses: Sound (or Hearing)

Mastering the five senses is essential for budding writers, especially poets. We often only have a limited amount of space or time in which to convey our meaning or describe something to our audience, so we need to be able to use the senses effectively in our writing. This means that practising using the senses is very important!

Last time, I discussed sight. I believe sight is by far the easiest sense to write because I have always found it easier to imagine something’s physical appearance than to imagine what it feels like, sounds like, smells like or tastes like. Today, we are going to examine sound, how we can describe sound in our writing, and the benefits it can provide.

Obviously, you will need to know the sound that you are trying to reproduce. It might be a good idea to search the internet for a sound clip that is close to the sound you wish to write about and listen to it for a while. This will allow you to get a good feel of the sound. Now it is time to translate that noise into words.

Try to select something that is a focal or main point to the piece you are writing. Sound can be a very good way to set the mood of a piece, as we tend to associate different sounds with different emotions or ideas: waves lapping softly against the pebbles on a beach could represent tranquillity; a long, drawn-out howl on a moonlit night might suggest something scary is going on or about to happen. I would personally advise against bombarding your readers with too many different sounds at once. Try to stick to a main sound or a main theme for your sounds.

Now consider the language that you are going to use to describe this sound. As someone who does not tend to focus on sounds often when reading, I use powerful words in short bursts when I am trying to create sound within my writing. Take a look at my poem But for now a World of Despair, where I used the noises associated with an avalanche to describe my feelings on the migrant crisis in Europe in 2015. Words like ‘grumble’ and ‘bellow’ are stronger than ‘groan’ and ‘shout’. Notice also how I placed the word ‘song’ in the middle of the poem to demonstrate that this poem is focused around sound. When you are writing about sounds, you should carefully pick out your words, too.

For example, it is okay to say ‘he spoke loudly’ or ‘he shouted’. But he could also roar or holler. You can add more intensity to the sound in your writing by expanding your vocabulary and replacing common words with more powerful descriptions that will evoke a greater response. Try practising with different sounds to see what you can come up with – I would love to share some poems or stories focused around sound on this blog.

This month’s theme is THE FIVE SENSES. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of the five senses, then please post a link in the comments or email me on with the subject: Five Senses.


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