July 31, 2017

Sensory Overload

By Cynthia Ruchti

Tonight, I heard the haunting warble of a loon. Would I have caught it if I’d been engrossed in emails or social media? If I’d filled the silence with my own noise? I heard because it was a stark, bare sound against a quiet backdrop in this lodge setting where I’m sequestered for the week, the construction zone at home exchanged for serenity.

Can our writing suffer from sensory overload? From noisy words?

Jackhammer words pound at the readers’ subconscious reading experience. Their repetition draws attention to the construction zone rather than the story in which the reader is supposed to be immersed.

            Sarah made a cup of coffee. The coffee burned her tongue, but she let it. Coffee or tea?    Maybe she should have chosen something other than coffee today, given the way coffee always raked her stomach.


            Sarah pulled the mug of French Dark Roast from her Keurig. The first sip scorched her tongue. She deserved it. Was coffee the right choice? How long had it been since she’d made anything other than a wrong decision? Too long. Her second sip stripped the lining of her soul.

Humming words can mark passages of dialogue as amateurish, like radio static rather than a clear signal.

            “So,” he said, “do you…uh…do you come here…often?”

            “Ah, well, um, yes,” she said.


            He cracked a roasted peanut shell between his thumb and forefinger and dislodged the single peanut kernel inside. There should have been two. The empty cavity reminded him why conversation hadn’t gotten past his, “Do you come here often?”

            The woman with the disarming smile leaned toward him. “Yes. I do. Every Thursday night.” She brushed the peanut casing onto the floor where it joined its friends. “And I like to dance. If you come next Thursday”—she slipped her purse strap over her shoulder—“make sure your heart knows if it’s ready for dancing.”

Buzz saw words are the literary equivalent of gnats, mosquitoes, or June bugs flapping against a screen door—unpleasant and arguably unnecessary. Buzz saw words are noisy neighbors. The real conversation is in there somewhere, but drowned out by the noise.

            The sun rose, of course, on the day she’d dreaded. And as a matter of fact, she’d dreaded it for weeks now. But the sun acted all proud and gutsy, as if it didn’t care one whit that in a few hours, in fact, less than a few hours, she’d sign away her right to be what every woman she knew wanted to be, except for the few who didn’t—a mom.

Consider this adjustment:

            Proud and gutsy, the sun rose on the day she’d dreaded. Where were the heavy gray clouds, sullen and foreboding, that should have marked this morning when she’d sign away her right to be a mom?

Listen to your current work in progress. Is it suffering from sensory overload, from a too noisy environment? Does the core of your story have to shout to be heard?
Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed-in-Hope through award-winning novels, nonfiction, devotions, and speaking events for women and writers. She serves as the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is the author of over 16 books. Her recent release is A Fragile Hope from Abingdon Press Fiction. You can connect with her through,,or through  or

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