The Logic of Natural Sound in a News Package

Call it the NPPA style of storytelling if you like; I just call it good storytelling.

  • Sprinkle natural sound moments into your story
  • Break up narration with soundbites or natural sound
  • These elements are ultimately about helping the viewer

Sound helps the viewer get into the story.  The sound makes them feel like they are there witnessing the story as it’s happening.  Watch movies. The ambient sounds carry you away and into the story.  Storytellers presenting stories in this style are trying to do the same thing.

There is logic to the use of natural sound.  I’m going to try and explain my philosophy to the use of natural sound.  The story I’m going to use for this post is It’s Just a Drill.

We’re going to talk about the logic of natural sound.

  • Natural sound helps with action and reaction
  • Natural sound can help grab the viewer’s attention
  • Natural sound can act like an adverb
  • Natural sound can act like punctuation
  • Natural sound at the beginning of narration or soundbites can help change location
  • Natural sound when appropriate reinforces a narration or soundbite
  • Natural sound can help with the rhythm of a story
  • The natural sound should be relevant to the story

The story starts with an action [:01], a woman screaming, “get me down.”

This is followed by a reaction of a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member at [:02] telling the woman, “I need you to be strong.”

  • Simple action and reaction

This is followed by another woman screaming at [:03], “Find my daughter please somebody!”

Those 3 pieces of natural sound set up the entire story.  I’m also grabbing the viewer.  Viewers aren’t always paying attention to the television or a website when a story starts.

  • Natural sound is an excellent way to grab the viewer

The first narration from the reporter is, The screams are real.

When I think of natural sound, I think of it as an adverb in a sentence.  What’s an adverb?

  • An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb
  • Adverbs generally answer one of four questions; how, when, where, or to what extent.

A simple sentence with an adverb is, He ran fast.  Now think of this in the world of stories you’re going to edit.  The reporter narration is, He ran.  You follow that with a piece of the natural sound of a person running fast.  Your natural sound is acting as an adverb.

In our story, the first narration at [:06] is The screams are real.

I then use a woman screaming, “Help.”  Its kind of like modifying the verb screams in the sentence like an adverb would in the written word.

The next narration at [:07] is, The injuries and the blood are not.

I follow that sentence with a woman sighing at [:10].

This piece of natural sound is acting more like an exclamation mark.

  • Exclamation marks are used at the end of sentences or a short phrase which express a powerful feeling
  • An exclamation can accompany mimetically produced sounds

In a story, you might right read, “The lion went roar!, and I ran away.”

In the world of stories you are editing you might have a narration, The lion roared, and then you’d have the natural sound of the lion roaring.  That would make your natural sound an exclamation mark.

At [:10], I have a woman saying, “It’s scary for us.”

I break up her sentence with the natural sound of a woman saying, “I don’t wanna go down, I don’t wanna go again.”

Here, the natural sound is acting like a comma

  • a comma can be used to connect independent clauses, as in; My friend, wearing green pants, is playing football outside.

The sentence in this part of the story would read; Its scary for us, I don’t wanna go down I don’t wanna go again, but we need to learn in this kind of exercise, 3, so that when a real one happens that we’re prepared.”

Just like in sentence structure, you don’t randomly put words or punctuation in the right?  If you apply that same logic to natural sound, I think it’ll greatly enhance your use of natural sound.

Watch the story again.  Notice the placement of natural sound and think about sentence structure.  Notice I don’t break up a sentence from either the reporter or a soundbite unless there is a natural pause, like adding a comma.

Notice when the natural sound comes at the end of a sentence from the reporter or a soundbite it’s acting more like an exclamation mark.

At [:19] I use the woman on the backboard before a sentence.

She moans.  Using natural sound this way, I’m changing location.  As you can see, they are now outside the arena.


  • These are guidelines for using natural sound
  • These are not rules
  • This is my logic

I don’t follow these guidelines every time I edit.  Sometimes I add natural sound by feel.  Stories have a rhythm.  Sometimes I add natural sound just to keep the rhythm going, like a drum in a song.

At [:24] I have a CERT volunteer laying down a tarp.  You hear the natural sound of him putting the tarp down on the ground.

This natural sound is not an adverb, a comma, an exclamation mark, or a location change.  It’s merely there to help with the rhythm of the story.  You see him and the tarp later in the story.  So, it’s relevant to the story.  It’s just not appropriate at this moment.  This brings me to another topic of natural sound.

  • Relevant Natural Sound

Ask yourself when you’re editing a story.  Why is that natural sound there?  Just cause isn’t a good enough answer.

  1. It’s relevant to what’s going on is a good answer
  2. If you were there, you’d hear that is a good answer
  3. It’s helping tell the story is a good answer
  • Relevant natural sound is simply sound that helps tell the story and not some random piece of noise.

Back to our story

At [:27], I use natural sound again to change location.  The natural sound of the horse gate opening is taking us inside the barn. Then the narration is, They are real-life neighbors learning how to manage emergencies.

The natural sound that follows is reinforcing the narration.  I have a woman asking a girl on a backboard, “Is that painful?”  What is she doing?  She’s managing the emergency.

  • I love when natural sound reinforces a narration or soundbite

After her natural sound action, I have a natural sound reaction of the girl on the backboard saying, “yes!” Then I have a CERT volunteer picking her up saying, “on the count of three.”  This is a natural sound sequence.

At [:36] is the natural sound of the CERT volunteer saying, “Is everybody good?” I’m using that natural sound like a  comma.

At [1:00], the natural sound is used to change location.  At [1:02], the natural sound is used to change location again.  Again at [1:05] with the woman screaming, “Mommy, where’s Lexi.”

I love using natural sound.  I love it when I can use one shot and all the natural sound within it.  At [1:05] is a prime example of me milking a shot for all it’s worth.

I start the shot with the woman screaming, “Mommy, where’s Lexi?”  I back time the next time she says “Mommy,” and a natural pause in the narration.  Then, I start the soundbite and wait for a natural pause in her sentence at [1:14], which is natural sound acting like a comma.

The natural sound comes, well very naturally to me. With time I hope it comes naturally to you.

This was a story I edited in one hour.  So practice, practice, practice.  After a while, the logic and use of natural sound will just become second nature.

Thank you for reading my blog

Check me out on Twitter @shawnmontano

Like the Edit Foundry on Facebook for daily thoughts on editing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s