Use Sound to Set the Mood in Your Writing

Sometimes getting rid of extraneous adjectives and exchanging passive verbs for active ones doesn’t do enough to jazz up your writing. When you feel that way, it may be time to actually hear the words you see on paper.

Words can bring all five senses to the forefront. The word orange evokes color, scent, shape, taste, and even texture. When you listen to the word fire, you can imagine the low flames with the  f sound, then sense  the angry flames soaring up the chimney as the word ends.

Pay attention to where sounds form in your mouth. Consonants are formed using combinations of the lips, tongue, and teeth. Vowels are formed in the front, mid-mouth, back, up, and down.

Test for yourself that sounds formed near the top of the mouth are happy or light (a, e, t, d, r in treat, star, for example). Sounds formed near the bottom of the mouth are darker (o, u, g, k in moan, gloom, for example). Add the vibration of vocal chords or stoppage from blocked air, and you’ll sense harsher feelings without realizing it’s happening. For example, you could choose glitter or you could choose shimmer, but glitter sounds more harsh.

Test words by exaggerating their sounds out loud. Bite down on the t and d. Hiss the s and z. Hear gr sounds growl. Slide the tongue along the palate for l. Stretch out vowels. A long repeated e sounds like a shriek. A long a sounds like a wail.

This concept isn’t as new to you as you may think. Most writers have used sound in writing and called it alliteration–the repetition of initial sounds.

Think about mood first. Ominous, scary stories call for words formed near the bottom of the mouth. Upbeat, lively stories require sounds from higher in the mouth.

Consider word choice to build tension. Which feels more tense to you as you read it? “Don’t dictate to me,” or “Don’t tell me what to do.”? I expect the first choice, with its  repetition of the t creates more tension without you, as reader, realizing it.

That leads me to my final point. You don’t want your reader to realize you’re using this technique. Stop and hear the words of your story. If you’re forcing the sounds, this technique won’t work. Don’t force an uncommon word to get a desired sound when a well-chosen common word is a better choice.

Have fun with this technique and add it to your writing toolbox.

Happy writing!

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2 Responses to Use Sound to Set the Mood in Your Writing

  1. Thanks for the tips! Reminded me of my graduate Linguistics 101 class!

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