Come to Your Senses: The Art of Using the Sense of Hearing in Romantic Writing

Romance writers are always told to “put the five senses into your writing.”  This means  that we need, as much as possible, to put our readers into the virtual bodies of our heroes and heroines by showing how those characters are feeling.  Most romance readers want to vicariously experience the joys and thrills of love by putting themselves into the characters they read about.  In order to do this, the author needs to describe in detail, everything the characters experience—what they hear, touch, taste, and smell, and see.

Over the next few weeks I would like to explore each sense in-depth, talk about what each sense evokes and ways to help you put your readers “into the moment” through use of these senses.  This week I’m focusing on the sense of hearing.

First, the senses are channels of communication.  Each time we hear a sound, we are receiving information about something.  Even the way information is presented sends messages.  So hearing is a major way that we communicate.  The article “The Voice of Love:  Building Romance through the Sense of Hearing” gives ideas for how to use the sense of hearing to make romance bloom. Some of these tips can be utilized in writing romance as well.

Next, use paralanguage to make your dialogue pop. Paralanguage is all the sounds we hear connected to language other than the words themselves.  Using these elements—vocal fillers, pitch, tone, rate, volume, inflection—you can give a complete picture of how the characters sound when they speak and reveal themselves.  A character who uses vocal fillers–um, er, well, you know, and like—has a character trait that may suggest hesitancy.  A heroine whose voice squeaks signals her excitement; the hero who drops his tone to husky is also excited, but in a different way.  How fast or slow they speak, how loud or soft their voice is, all set the scene and enhance what characters are experiencing.

And finally, make your romance novel richer by adding sounds the POV character would naturally hear or be aware of within the scene.  The crackle of leaves underfoot in a dry forest, the swift, dull thudding of horses hooves on dry mud, the blood pounding in the heroine’s ears as her heart beats faster at sight of the hero.  Sounds that surround your hero and heroine should sink the reader into the psyche of the character, letting the reader “hear” what the character does.  The better your descriptive writing skills, the better the experience for your audience.

For more tips on using the sense of hearing (and the other senses) to add emotion to your scenes, check out Rosemary Gemmell’s article “How to Write Romantic Short Stories.”

The following excerpt from Heart of Deception, my newest release from Books To Go Now!, shows how effective sound can be used to bring the reader into the scene.

Heart pounding, he laid her on the frilly coverlet, still clothed. His strong fingers slid her gown and chemise off her shoulders.  Celinda looked up at him, her eyes liquid pools of golden brown heated by the sure touch of his fingers.  She sighed, a slight sound that sent a blow to his heart.  Then he watched, incredulous, as her small hand gripped his, led it to the neckline of the gown now barely covering her nipples.  Sliding his hand beneath the fabric, she pressed his fingers into the soft white flesh and moaned as they brushed the tip of her erect peak.

Tell me how you put your reader into your scenes?  Do you make an effort to put all five senses into your writing?  Do you find it difficult to include all five?  Do you find yourself using only your favorite senses?  Thanks for sharing!

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8 Responses to Come to Your Senses: The Art of Using the Sense of Hearing in Romantic Writing

  1. I enjoyed your article. It was a good reminder to always include sound in my writing. My favorite writing teacher gave each class member five highlighters, each one representing a sense. Then he had us mark each sense on the page. The more colorful the page, the more colorful the writing! I found that most of my marks were yellow (visual) and fewest were taste (green). It turned out to be a helpful tool.
    I’m looking forward to reading your posts about the other senses as well.

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    • jennajaxon says:

      Thanks so much, Sandy! I love the idea of the colored highlighters. What a great visual to let you know what you might want to work on. I’m hoping these posts will make me more aware of including the different senses as well. 🙂

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  2. D'Ann says:

    Great post! I think sound is one of the most obvious senses in books, and one of the best to convey a myriad of emotions, etc.

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    • jennajaxon says:

      Thanks, D’Ann! Sound is terribly important in our lives, moreso than most of us realize. Imagine if one were deaf–what nuances we would miss both in everyday life and in our intimate moments.

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  3. Casea Major says:

    Great post, Jenna. Including sound adds depth and richness to the story.

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  4. That’s a very sexy excerpt, covering the sense of sound well.

    When I write, I “see” a movie in my head and my job is to transcribe what I “see.” Each sense is part of that movie (though you don’t get smell or touch in theaters, I have the deluxe version between my ears). Consequently, I have ample opportunity to use every sense in my writing. You can’t put every sense in every paragraph, of course; sometimes you have to pick and choose or your words begin to sound like a laundry list. Readers also have favorite senses, and if the writer and reader have that in common, it’s a match made in heaven.

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    • jennajaxon says:

      Wonderful addition to the post, Patricia. I, too, “see” a movie in my head. I find that makes it easier for me to describe what is taking place and how it affects the senses of the characters. And you’re right–there can be too much of a good thing if you’re not careful. Just enough sensual imagery is the key to a well written piece.

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