I can often tell a new writer by the silence in their writing. I find it is something early stage writers forget about. I did.

Now a days, I pause as I’m writing and ask myself when did I last mention sound because it is a sense I am least conscious of.

However, I had a sharp reminder when one of my tutors, many years ago, wrote on a piece of my writing, “This reads like a silent movie.”

He was right but even in a silent movie the sound of the machine is clattering in the background or there is music, rarely absolute silence, as if the viewer was in a vacuum.

From then on, I checked on how well I had described sound and how often I mentioned the sounds in a landscape or around a character or characters. I began consciously paying attention to sound. Wherever I walked, I listened to the sounds around me and thought about how I might describe them.

For example, the song of a bird is a specific sound that is unique to that bird so to say, “the birds sang beautifully,” is not doing justice to that particular sound. For the reader to enter a soundscape the writer needs to create specific descriptions. So this is how I would handle that situation. Other writers might do it differently and that is the fantastic thing about writing. Everyone approaches the topic in his or her unique way.

So I am listening to birds in a walkway.

I might describe the soundscape in this way. It depends on the situation.

“Martin and Janelle were silent apart from the sound of their tramping boots on the narrow pathway and their soft breathing. Ahead, a Kereru (wood pigeon) fluttered through the dark crimped leaves of a Puriri tree and settled on a thick branch. It pecked at some red berries and an escaping seed quietly tapped through the tree to eventually land softly on the ground. A Tui settled on a branch near them and began to trill up and down the scale ending with a warble, its white feathered tuft at its throat trembling to the vocals.

Janelle tapped Martin on the arm and pointed to it. He saw it and nodded, smiling.

A tweeting fantail flitted around them and they laughed softly as if their sound might break a precious moment...”

And so on.

In this piece the reader gets a complete picture. There are sounds and visuals. The reader also gets a sense of the relationship between Janelle and Martin and their feelings about the bush. But at no time do I say, “They loved walking in the bush.” We get a sense of that through the description. We also get a measure of the tree’s size by the way the seed travels and we feel their sense of wonder.

We also hear their controlled laughter at the fantail’s antics.

Then, that moment a blast of wind might destroy the ambience and replace it with another soundscape.

“The silence seemed to draw in its breath. Janelle and Martin gripped hands, suddenly afraid. A wind shook the trees and the birds disappeared with a flap of wings….”

Sound can signal changes in mood and ambience as do visuals. It is the mixing of all the senses that engages the reader, taking them to the places the writer wants him or her to go.



writing sound