Sound in Storytelling

Image from Google Images

Image from Google Images

“Sound takes you closer to the story,” said Darren Duriach, a journalist who loads his stories with natural sound. A great story that has video must have great sound.

Why does sound matter?
Sound makes the story come true to the readers and listeners. The sound in the story can complement words and visuals. Readers want to experience the story, not just read it. There are different types of sounds that journalist use in their stories.

  • Interviews: interview sounds let us hear the voices of the people we covering.

NPR used an interview to compliment pictures taken by an NPR photographer of the Japan disaster.
NPR interview

  • Ambient Sound: sound that helps listeners understand the mood or feel of the story.

For example, The Spectator at UW Eau Claire recently started a story with this approach.

  • Natural Sound: action of the story.
    Washington Post’s Sarah L. Voisin has done great picture stories with slide shows. Example of her great natural sound is her pieces from the Ohio fair, Fair Weather Fun.
  • Voiceovers: tell the story and weave the elements together. This must sound natural. Create a script to read off of as a map to help you. Put slashes where you want to pause.

Planning your sound
You may only have one shot to get your sound, so you need to plan wisely.

Research the area that you are going to get your sound from. You may want to ask questions about the environment if you have not been there before. You could even do a pre-interview to see if the sound works well.

Make sure you pack all the gear you need to receive the perfect sound. This includes your basic kit: microphone, recorder, cables, and recording media.

Al Tompkns, a professor on, gives rules to great sound in his book “Aim for the heart”.
1.)   Get close to the action
2.)   Use those headphones – you need to hear what you are capturing
3.)   Choose the right mic
Ask yourself three questions: How much noise is competing with the sound that I want to record? How close can I get with the microphone? Is wireless a possibility?
4.)   Build in silence pauses are powerful, they gain attention.

Transcribing the Soundbite
You have to make sure you put the sound in the story exactly how you received it. Do not edit an interview by rearranging it. A good thing to remember is not everyone is a perfect speaker. If the interviewee truly stumbles on his/her words, you should reconsider. Ask yourself if you should really be using that as a powerful sound.

In creating your piece, you want to put the sound close to the action.
Example 1: The dog barked until he received his bone (bark).
Example 2: The dog barked (bark) until he received his bone.

The second example is more powerful because the listener hears the bark with the action to create that image.

If you would like to learn more about how to use sound in storytelling take Al Tompkins class series “Aim for the Heart” on

Rachel Perry


About perryrh

I am a Junior at UWEC
This entry was posted in Multimedia, News coverage, Writing tips and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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