Saturday, December 14, 2013

Writing Sounds (and other sensory details)

I’m struggling with a passage today in my work in progress (Abnormals – a YA not-exactly-superhero story.) It comes down to finding the RIGHT word to describe something that’s hard to describe – sound.

The particular passage in question is at the pinnacle of action in my book, and the heroine is about to remove a large piece of metal from the male lead’s leg.

What, precisely, is that sound?

A thwap?

A slop?


Trill? Splosh? Splatter? Spurtle? (I like that one!)

Funny thing about using a thesaurus to come up with more word ideas – you actually need an ORIGINAL word idea to be able to look something up. If you’re really just grasping for a word, all the thesauruses in the world won’t be able to tell you what word to put down.

But once you have an idea, you can go down thesaurus road and look up the word, which will likely take you in a number of directions. Being old-school, I have an actual thesaurus on my desk. A paper book. I think it’s the one I used in my High School English class sophomore year.

And, interestingly, slop and splosh take you to splash. Which then gives you splatter and spurtle.

What about other sensory details? One of the most unused in fiction is taste. Think about it – when is the last time a character you were reading about said anything about the TASTE of the food they were eating? Usually there’s plenty of talk about food (sidenote: at least in many books there is. I’m always surprised when a book doesn’t talk about the characters eating at all! While some bodily functions are blessedly missing from most novels, it’s still kind of funny when you realize a novel doesn’t include a word about the food the characters eat. It’s such an easy way to add some great details about setting. You can give the reader clues about the location, environment, socio-economic status of the main cast, etc. just by mentioning what they eat once in a while. But I digress.)

Some resources:

Smells, sounds, taste, touch, and of course sight. What are some ways you can add these sensory details to your writing? And how often will you need to use a thesaurus to help find the exact right word?


  1. I actually groan every time I have to write about food in my stories because then I have to think about what they would have available to eat depending on the time of year. But I agree that it adds a richness to the world-building. Food is so essential for living. I honestly don't know how a story could be told without any references to eating. Now I'm going to be hyper-aware of eating in books.

    Great post and interesting links. Thanks for sharing.

  2. And this is why I prefer to write in a modern setting. You have to worry about whether food is in season? Dang writing is hard.

    I don't use sound the way I could because it usually comes off cheesy when I try it. The door closed with a solid thwack. Her shoes clacked against the floor. Her voice was rough like she had a cough precoughed. All slightly awkward.

    I'm having a writing is hard kind of a day.

    Love this though.

  3. Thwap. Slurp. Ew. When I hear those words in the context of surgery, it makes me a little nauseous, which is probably a sign you are on the right track. Sounds aren't quite so hard for me. What's hard for me is hand gestures. Sometimes I'll sit there for 5 minutes doing the same hand gesture again and again in the hopes that a nice descriptive phrase for it will pop out at me. Sometimes it does! Sometimes not. Awesome post!


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