Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sound Soaring

As I watched W.S. Merwin, American poet and the recipient of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, be interviewed on television this week, I was fascinated to hear this great poet speak of language, sound, and the expression of emotions and ideas through sound.

It was enlightening to hear him explain the use of vowels in emotional contexts and the joy or grief they can express, and how consonants are used to form these sounds into words and expressions of the emotion or thought.

When writing for children, either in prose or poetry, the apt use of sound is critical. Often, I think, we might forget the sound of our language when we wrestle with character development, plot and setting.

Sound is one of the underlying elements that a reader might not recognize as a power in the story, verse or novel, but it's a strength that adds some of the depth and emotional charge to the tension or feel of the text.

The onomatopoeia of the language, where the word imitates the natural sound of the object or action, enhances the reading experience, especially for children. In a simple line such as "the eagle soars," the child can feel the swish of upward movement and speed and perhaps even thrill of the great bird flying high.

How do you use sound in your writing?


  1. Creating sound in a story, whether it be in the story itself or in the wording doesn't matter, what matters is stimulating all of the reader's senses.

    I think the use of onomatopoetic words is more important in stories for younger readers....perhaps.

    Nice post, Eileen.

  2. Reading your text out loud is essential for the picture book writer, but I've also noticed that when an editor at a conference reads from fiction, it shows whether the fiction author also paid attention to sound - especially consonance and assonance.

  3. I remember Jane Yolen's Owl Moon being brilliant in the sound department. To recap, a dad and his kid venture out one snowy evening in the hopes of spotting owls in the woods. But they have to be quiet and still or they'll scare the owls away. I remember hearing the silence on every page...until...whoosh...the owl arrives.

    At the other, less subtle end of the spectrum, my kids couldn't get enough of the animal and musical sounds in Mr. Brown Can Moo and The Remarkable Farkle McBride.

  4. I think creating sound and rhythm is important in novels, too. Those are crucial elements to the all important voice.