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Sound Off! (v. 3)

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/).

Originated by: Lani Kraus
Posted on: Mar. 11, 2001
Reposted, revised, on Sept. 10, 2006.
Reposted, revised, on Aug. 3, 2008.
Reposted on September 19, 2010
Reposted on April 1, 2012
Reposted on January 19, 2014
Reposted on January 25, 2015
Reposted on January 15, 2018


Exercise: Write a scene of no more than 400 words in which you employ sound to help show us your characters or to help set your scene.


Writers tell their stories largely by using the sense of sight--we learn what characters and scenes look like. Sounds, smells, tastes often get short shrift.

But read this line by Joyce Carol Oates (from We Were the Mulvaneys):

"Marianne's pretty face lit up in its customary dazzling smile. 'Hi, Della Rae!'--the very voice, a lilting soprano, of Caucasian privilege."

Doesn't that description of a sound tell us something? Can you hear it? In your submission, use whatever words you need to let us hear the sounds that help show your characters or help us to see your setting. Of course, you'll use other senses as well, but make sure that sound plays a significant part.

Birds sing in the back yard or the forest, dogs sometimes howl in the dark, exploding bombs create a din, cars honk on the street outside my building. We're constantly surrounded by sound, and often it serves to help orient us, to show us where we are and what's going on. Your characters are in the same boat--let them hear as well as see.


Exercise: Write a scene of no more than 400 words in which you employ sound to help show us your characters or to help set your scene.


When critiquing, tell how the author's use of the sense of sound does or doesn't work to show us something about character, setting, or emotion that we otherwise might miss. How does sound color or deepen the story? Could the writer have used even more sound?

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Modified by Gayle Surrette.