72 Ways to Describe Sound

Since novels rarely include pictures, audio, color, or anything multimedia, their power to captivate lies entirely in words. How we authors describe action, surroundings, setting, and characters determine whether readers will not be able to put the book down or will throw it into the trash. Here are a few suggestions for describing sounds in your novel.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).

ducks not in a rowOutside

  1. Somewhere a dog barked
  2. Muffled music pulsed from a building to our right, boomed as a patron emerged
  3. The white noise whoosh of traffic from Soldiers Field Road was rhythmic, almost lulling.
  4. The call of the muezzin echo from the mosque loudspeaker out over the rain-slick street
  5. The rasp of leather on rock
  6. A hush in the dark
  7. The wind made the various chimes hanging from the eaves and trees, sing
  8. Croaking of frogs
  9. Blat of motorcycles; the full-throated growl of a truck
  10. Through a window I could hear the risings and fallings of a conversation being held on a porch near the corner, chatting and yapping and playing and shrieking; a car passed on the street
  11. the creaking, the sea noises, and the night birds outside. I was surrounded by the musty, oily, salty smell of the ship and the ocean, and realized how sharp one’s senses become in the dark. Every place has its own scent, a peculiar mixture of organic growth and human industry, of must, paint, wood and vermin.
  12. Faint sound of music from the rooftop lounge above us
  13. A cab idled
  14. Sounds of traffic, a horn honking, an engine revving.
  15. Heard the crunch and rattle of peppercorns as he approached the car
  16. The locusts keened at me
  17. slap of rope against asphalt
  18. the rhythmic cadence of a cadet platoon running through the grounds, the steady tramp of their feet like a muffled drum on the quad
  19. A faint electrical hum in the background sounds in the street
  20. A piercing silence
  21. Hot humid air was electric with the chirping of crickets and the rattle of cicadas
  22. Sounds of jackhammers, the bleat of sirens in the night, 24-hr diners, graffiti, coffee serve in cardboard cups, steam exhaled through manhole covers
  23. A motorcycle snarled
  24. The roaring sound of a motorcycle revving on the other side of the cemetery intrudes like a profanity


  1. the wind roared
  2. the clinking whisper of snow on the metal roof, the panting of my dog, the scrape of my own footfalls—the only sounds in a place …

car soundsVehicles

  1. The rhythmic pounding punctures the stillness of the morning air—fwtt fwtt fwtt
  2. Drumbeat of a chopper, coming in low, hidden by the tree line
  3. Thrum of the rotors
  4. The engine whined at a high pitch
  5. Traffic howled in both directions
  6. Doppler wail of a passing patrol car
  7. Squawking


  1. The boom of the rocket propelled grenade leaving its launcher
  2. The whoosh as it blistered through the air en route to its target, and finally the deafening explosion as the RPG connected
  3. Barrel up under lights and klaxon
  4. Clink of metal, brush of boot
  5. War
  6. Sound of the aircraft powering up was like an industrial turbine red-lining.
  7. Klaxon sounded on the ship’s internal speaker system.


  1. The fire hissed softly and the log shifted with a little shower of sparks
  2. doors opened and closed and water ran and toilets flushed and then the house went quiet. The heating system whirred and the taped-up football players muttered and grunted and snored
  3. chink chink of cutlery on china
  4. Phone rang, a short, sharp trill
  5. Silence swelling to fill the space available
  6. Creak the basement steps made when he’d sat down, drip-drip-drip from a leaky utility sink faucet


  1. Phones chirping and deputies yelling at each other
  2. Heels tapping softly against the polished stone floor
  3. Keyboards clacking
  4. Elevator doors clunked shut


  1. ringing was growing in her ears
  2. Sounded like a chicken being strangled
  3. the loudest man-made sound on the North American continent until the detonation of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
  4. The soft snick—a knife opening
  5. Ice clinked gently in the glass


  1. Hacked out a cough, noisy and bronchial
  2. High pitched cackle, an ugly gasping sound, half laugh, half choke, erupted somewhere in front of them
  3. Rubber-soled boots silent on the polished stone surface
  4. Braying laugh
  5. Basso voice he’d developed from years of smoking, drinking and yelling
  6. Conversation louder here, laughter, the blare of music from digital players, movies playing on laptops or flat-screen monitors
  7. Snick

Here’s how IEFLT describes sounds that humans make.

More descriptors about your senses:

57 Ways to Describe Talking in a Novel

65 Ways to Describe Sight and Eyes in Your Writing

How to Describe Sensory Actions

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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41 thoughts on “72 Ways to Describe Sound

  1. Pingback: 19 Ways to Describe People | WordDreams...

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  5. I’ve always had trouble sensationalizing actual perceptions into words, be it visual or auditory. At least now, I’ll definitely have some help with the latter issue🙂 are there any previous posts regarding visual imagery (or just sensory in general?) that might help out?


    • Hi Heather–if you click the ‘Descriptors’ category at the top of the post, you’ll see my 48 collections. Or, this link––will give you a direct link to most of them. Enjoy!


  6. Lovely. And the beauty of words is that, to each reader, a sound will have its own personal meaning and resonance. Your clink of ice in glass will be different from mine but we will both understand and be happy with our respective clinks.


  7. Ai yi yi yiiiiiiiiiiiiiii whata list!

    My favorite is “The locusts keened at me” – mainly because I don’t know what “keened means” and it leaves it totally to my imagination.

    My least favorite is “Sounded like a chicken being strangled”. As a result I’m now a vegan.


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