In the article “Sound Bites: Making Writing Musical,” we looked at the properties of sounds in the English language and how we can use them to enhance our writing. In this post, we’re going to put those ideas into practice with a little writing exercise. 

A heightened awareness of sound and the knowledge of how to use sounds in your writing has several benefits:

  1. Style: It takes your writing from humdrum to engaging.
  2. Tone: It helps you set the tone of your poem or story from the very first line.
  3. Mood/Emotion: It helps you elicit specific emotions or reactions in your reader.
  4. Voice: It helps you create unique and authentic author voice and voices for your characters.
  5. Scene: It helps you show setting or character without “telling.”
  6. Pacing: It gives you more control over the dynamics and pacing of your writing (when and where to change tone, mood, or pacing, for example).

Let’s look at those points a bit closer. Suppose I want to write a story about a train. I start with this first line:


  1. This humdrum sentence uses everyday language that doesn’t engage. There is no craft to it.
  2. No particular tone has been set. I’m not sure what to expect.
  3. I have no emotional reaction to this sentence.
  4. I don’t recognize a unique voice.
  5. It tells me nothing about the character or setting.
  6. The sentence is neutral in terms of pacing.

Using sound devices, I could put several different spins on the train idea.


  1. The language is engaging and fun to say out loud.
  2. The tone is light-hearted. The consonance on the CK and T and the assonance on the short I create an upbeat rhythm.
  3. The train seems happy and therefore elicits a feeling of happiness and excitement in me.
  4. The voice is fun, jaunty, full of life.
  5. I can feel the jaunty movement of the bouncing train. The word rickety and the way the train moves makes me think he’s not in the best repair but that he’s okay with his lot in life. I know he’s on an old track, which is also rickety, so I have some clue to setting.
  6. The CK, T, and short I are sounds that are spoken quickly and naturally speed up the pacing. The sentence forces me to read it quickly.

Since not all sounds have the same properties, I could focus the assonance and consonance on different letters and see what happens.


  1. The language is engaging and fun to say out loud.
  2. The tone is heavier. The assonance on the short U combined with the consonance on the DGE and G sounds weigh this sentence down. The line is broken up a bit by the two short A-CK sounds in the slant rhyme fractured track, which is not a soothing phrase at all.
  3. Gus the train seems sad or tired. I might worry a bit and wonder why he feels this way. I hope he’ll find a happy ending or a good nights’ sleep wherever he is going. (And if he does, the writer will need to pay attention to the sounds as the story goes from heavy and sad to light and happy.)
  4. The voice is heavy, sad, resigned, hopeless.
  5. The character is clearly down in the dumps and is leaving a town. Is it his home? The track is broken. Maybe the town is run-down too? Maybe there’s no work left? Maybe he’s leaving loved ones behind as he goes in search of new possibilities?
  6. The short U, DGE, G, CH, and even the TR are heavier in the mouth and spoken more slowly, so the pacing is slower in this version.

This story could also take a lyrical turn by playing more with assonance, alliteration, and voiced sounds.


  1. The language is musical and pleasing to say out loud.
  2. The tone is pensive. The assonance on the long O and OO sounds combines with the consonance on the voiced M and N to create a moan that lingers throughout the sentence and conveys a mournful mood. I would expect this to be a sad story, too, though completely different in tone and style than the story about Gus.
  3. Rather than make me sad, all those mournful sounds make me curious and suspenseful. This could even be a scary story.
  4. The voice is mysterious, full of longing.
  5. I’m not sure if the character is the locomotive or the night or the shadows or the moon or none of the above, but I would like to find out. Since there are shadows and moonlight, I picture this train going through the woods. I may be wrong, but the phrase at least puts images in my head.
  6. The assonance on the long O and OO sounds gives the phrase a languid pace and encourages the reader to linger over the sentence.

The number of transformations this sentence could undergo to create different effects is limited only by our imagination. But I hope these three examples will give you a good idea of how we can choose and manipulate specific sounds to add music–and so much more!–to our poetry and prose.


Take the first sentence in a work in progress or a line from a poem and put it through the transformation test. Or use this sentence: Birds took to the sky and flew south for the winter. Feel free to share your transformations in the comments.

© 2014-2023 Renée M. LaTulippe. This article is partially excerpted from a lesson in the online course The Lyrical Language Lab. All rights reserved.