I live in a quiet apartment in a noisy city. Lately I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of LISTENING to sounds around me. The soundtrack of New York is not just the blare of horns, screams of sirens, and the thundering of jackhammers. It’s the cooing of pigeons, the clack of heels on the pavement and the whisper of fabric as someone races by. I think too many people are losing out by cocooning themselves in personal sound tunnels. By being constantly plugged into music or phone calls (or both) their ears are “absent” from the soundscape of the city.

I’ve become conscious of the sounds around me and think that suggesting sounds in storytelling is like filling in the sound effects in a film. Sound sets the stage and creates an atmosphere.

Orson Welles was famous for both his radio shows and his films. He used sound like a radio professional in some of the best scenes in “Citizen Kane.” It might have been a budgetary consideration. It’s certainly cheaper to have the sounds of a party in a distant room than it is to hire a large number of extras, costume them and film the party scene. The comparison of the emptiness of the room we see and the crowd we imagine down the hall is communicated purely in sound.

Describing sounds, inviting the reader to “hear” while they picture the events of a story is a clever way to add dimension to the setting. We don’t live in the absence of sound —at least not until we’re all too hard of hearing to appreciate the fragments of conversation overheard on the street, the clip clop of the hooves of a police horse on pavement and snatches of music from the open doors of cafes.



  1. I’m used to the sound of birds and of small children going to or coming from school. It’s amazing how much more I hear when I actually listen. It’s odd just how discordant much of it is.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Candy Korman

      The discordance (great word) can add tension to a scene in a novel. Very useful….

      LISTEN…. It’s amazing what you start to hear.

  2. As a gamer I’m very conscious of sound effects. Without them, you cannot immerse yourself in the ‘reality’ of the environment, and without that, you might as well be playing solitaire with a deck of cards.

    Reading is no different. If you can’t immerse yourself in the story, if it isn’t believable then why read it?

    • Candy Korman

      Thank Gamer! Yes, sounds are key to any immersive experience. I’m trying to imagine an entirely silent game. It would be weird. Even back before video games — play was noisy. The rattle of dice in a cup, the click click click of a game piece moving along a board, the shuffle of cards… I’m picturing myself playing Monopoly as a kid. Even games like Scrabble have the satisfying sound of the tiles clicking together.

      When writing a story (entirely in text) providing description that includes sounds helps to complete the picture. Aromas are also good, but sounds are easy to sneak into descriptive text and can even be natural in dialog. One character can talk about the howl of a wild animal or hearing footsteps behind them in the parking lot. Whether it’s in dialog or in the scene itself, sounds heighten the tension in a suspense story.