Adding Sounds to Scenes is a Sound Practice

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

See more about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days at the end of the post.

Writers know how important it is that their characters use their five senses in stories. Last month, I spoke about scents and tastes. Today, we’ll focus on sounds. Unlike scents and tastes, sound verbs and types seem to be limitless.

Creating Words for Sounds

Some readers enjoy a created word for a sound, such as ba-lop. Other readers dislike this practice and prefer writers use the commonly accepted words for sounds, such as bang. You or your publisher may have a preference as to whether you create the sound in a scene, use a commonly accepted word, or tell the sound.


Casey ran full speed toward Sam. Ba-lop! Sam looked up from the ground, trying to regain his breath. “Why … did … you … tackle me?”

Casey ran full speed toward Sam. Bam! Sam looked up from the ground, trying to regain his breath. “Why … did … you … tackle me?”

Casey ran full speed toward Sam and collided with him in a loud thud. Sam looked up from the ground, trying to regain his breath. “Why … did … you … tackle me?”

Whether a commonly used sound is listed in dictionaries varies among dictionaries. One dictionary had bang but not bam. Another dictionary included both.

If I make up a word for a sound, I treat it as if it’s an uncommonly encountered foreign word. I write it in italics the first time I use the sound.

Types of Sounds and Examples

I’ll leave spoken words and interjections to dialogue and concentrate on other sources of sounds.

image by Pezibear
  • Engine: rasped, grated, clanked, purred, rattled
  • Liquid: splashed, dripped, plunked, babbled, crashed
  • Vocal: bawled, giggled, mumbled, chattered, blubbered
  • Walking: crunched gravel, swished through leaves, stomped, padded, shuffled
  • Air or Breathing: belched, gasped, swooshed, coughed, wheezed
  • Animal and insect: buzzed, hissed, whinnied, fluttered, woofed
  • Metallic: clanged, clinked, dinged, clanked, pealed
  • House: creaked, squeaked, groaned, shutters flapped, chinked
  • Hushed: sighed, whispered, fizzed, whirred, shushed
  • Rhythmic: puttered, rat-tat-tatted, pitter-pattered, trilled, clip-clopped
  • Staccato: hail stones pinged, popcorn popped, the alarm bleeped, stiletto heels tapped
  • Continuous or lengthy: rumbled, moaned, boomed, droned, yowled

For more example of sounds, ask online for examples in the above types of sounds.

Examples of Verbs That Introduce Sounds

image by GDJ
  • Emitted
  • Blasted
  • Sounded
  • Echoed
  • Reverberated
  • Discharged
  • Emanated
  • Expelled
  • Issued
  • Radiated
  • Released
  • Sent
  • Spewed
  • Transmitted
  • Thrummed
  • Wailed
  • Screamed
  • Roared
  • Clashed
  • Spattered

Examples of Sound Adjectives

image by geralt
  • Raucous
  • Brassy
  • Whiny
  • Dulcet
  • Lilting
  • Musical
  • Deafening
  • Piercing
  • Sharp
  • Blaring
  • Muffled
  • Rustling

What are sounds you use for cooking?

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries

Use These Moviemaker Wisdoms to Bring Your Novel’s Scenes to Life

“The style, technique and methods used in film and TV are so familiar to us, we process them comfortably. To some degree, we now expect these elements to appear in the novels we read – if not consciously, then subconsciously.” —C. S. Lakin

image by pashminu
image by pashminu

I read, “Writing a Novel? 6 Visual Storytelling Techniques to Borrow From Film and TV” by C. S. Lakin on The Write Life blog.

Among other things, Lakin’s suggestions showed me how to stop inserting senses into a scene, and making them part of the experience.

I invite you to read Lakin’s blog. Here’s what I did from Lakin’s suggestions.

1. I broke my ho-hum scene into segments like a movie director does. Each segment represented a key moment:

  • opening “shot,”
  • moments when something important happened,
  • and the high moment before the end.

2. Then for each segment, I imagined where my camera needed to be:

  • where my character physically is as she sees and reacts to what’s happening,
  • zooming in close for details and zooming out for a wider perspective.

image by And_Graf
image by And_Graf

Example: My hero and heroine sit in a Christmas Eve midnight service.

In my heroine’s point of view, I zoomed out and saw two pastors bring flames from the altar to the congregation. They start the chain in which people in the pews pass the flame to their neighbors’ candles.

Then I zoomed my lens in on the hero beside her. He whispers in her ear something she doesn’t expect. I zoomed in closer as she studies his profile and has an epiphany about him.

3. Next I considered background noise, instead of trying to think of sounds I could insert.

In my example scene, the only sounds in the draft version were the hero’s whispering in the heroine’s ear and the congregation singing “Silent Night.” I sat in the pew with her in the opening segment and listened. Ah. Soft organ music played.

In another segment, I heard a man’s cough farther back in the sanctuary. And when the candles glow in the dark before “Silent Night” is sung, I noticed the silence.

In a segment when the hero and heroine walk home, I heard the hum of a car passing.

image by tpsdave
image by tpsdave

4. Next, I colored my scene. Not inserting colors so much as seeing them in my segments.

In one segment, considering what some colors imply, I sat in the pew and saw the red carpet on the stairs the pastors climb to the altar to light candles. In a zoom, I saw the white candle in the heroine’s hand.



5. Finally, I looked for textures of weather or atmosphere.

While inside the church, I remembered from past Christmas Eve services how I loved when the lights were dimmed and only the glowing candles emitted a warm and meaningful light.

image by Antranias
image by Antranias

On their walk home, it’s snowing. I saw the snow gathering on the hero’s hair and eyelashes. I felt snowflakes cold on the heroine’s face, making her lower her head against them.

The items I added to the scene were those I visualized through my camera. They weren’t the plot or action, but they brought what surrounds the action alive.


Get out your camera and see what needs to be added to your scene. Click to tweet.

What might your camera see in the scene you’re working on as you zoom in and out?