Good writing is at its very best when it is full of sensory words that let our reader see and hear and smell and feel on their skin what we, or our characters, are feeling.
Some time ago, I took a great class that required this exercise: Write what you hear. First, write a “bullet list” of what you hear. Then, use as many of those real-life sounds in a paragraph or two.
Here’s my response. It really demonstrated to me how adding the senses to my writing brings it to life.
- parakeets scolding, haranguing
- piano playing–Phil practicing–composing
- dog scratching himself
- hard drive fan
- clicking of keyboard
- high pitched sound in my ears–changing intensity or pitch
- clock ticking
- me yawning
- pen scratching on paper
- fingers drumming
- chewing gum
- email chiming
- scratching head
- turning neck, crackling sound in my vertebrae
- coughing, swallowing
- dog tags jingling
It’s late. I’m trying to think of something to write, longing for the rapid-fire clicking of the keyboard. Longing for 60 words a minute. Getting, instead, 60 keystrokes a minute–one key click for every clock tick.
My dog, sprawled at the side of my desk, jangles his dog tags at me as he raises his head. He wonders if my long pauses mean I’m done. After staring at me a moment he decides I’m not up for a session of ball-fetching or ear-scratching, so he does it himself. Scratch, scratch, scratch, repeated about two dozen times.
I really need to go put the cover over my parakeets. Their scolding and haranguing rises and falls in intensity, clatters down the hall from the kitchen and sizzles on my nerves. I know. I know. They’re tired too. When am I going to tend to them? Cover them up, put them to bed.
From the other end of the house drifts the irregular pling-pling of a high note on the piano, not always the same. More occasionally the left-hand notes in the bass range harmonize to lend some accompaniment and I realize my husband, Phil, is composing. I pause and without the plastic clatter of my typing, I am aware of the drone of my hard-drive fan, the high pitched sound hissing in my ears at a pitch that just couldn’t be called a ringing. It’s easy to notice noises, since I’m typing with my eyes closed.
Want to give it a try?
I’d love you to share your list and your paragraph(s) in the comments below.
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