"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sense of Sound

The sense of sound probably finds its way onto the writer's page in second position after the sense of sight. Regardless of where you are, a city or the wilderness, close your eyes for a moment and allow yourself to hear the sounds, or the silence, that surrounds you. Even in what you think is relative silence, there is always a sound, even if it's white noise in your ears. But you will pick up more, the soughing of the wind perhaps, insects buzzing about, a jet flying overhead. Something. In the city, it might be a cacophony of noise, almost too many sounds to describe. Pick out those that relate to the mood of your story in some way. For instance, if your character is happy, focus on the happy sounds, like the happy music of an ice cream truck coming down the street, or a bird chirping merrily in the nearby tree, children laughing. If your character is in a frightening situation, like lost in the forest, focus on a huffing noise in the depths of the forest that could be a wild animal like a bear coming close. Or twigs snapping, brush popping and crackling as if something is coming fast with no caution. It could be a herd of elk fleeing a hunter, or it could be a predator chasing your protagonist. Sounds work wonderfully to create a mood.

There is an old Cherokee saying that I love: "Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf."

Now here are a few examples of how to use sound to create a mood and/or paint a picture.

From Firelight by Linda Sandifer:

"He always came at night, like death or the devil. He came when the moon rode high, casting ghostly shadows over the canyons and over his fiery red body. But he never came quietly. Even above the thunder of his band's pounding hooves, the stallion's shrill scream pierced the night and sent chills racing down the spines of every person on the Walking Hawk Ranch. The low, rumbling sound, like the earth trembling, pulled Rafe Cutrell from the depths of a deep sleep."

From Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas:

"At first, I wasn't scared, just humiliated, knowing that the drone in the room meant my classmates were talking about me, accusing me of being a thief. When the bell rang, dismissing classes, and the room grew quiet, however, I wondered if I'd have to stay there all night."

"Carl began to cry, and Dad sat down on the steps next to him, putting his arm around Carl's shoulder. We were all silent, listening to Carl's sobs, which were ragged, like a piece of machinery that wasn't hitting right."


B.J. Anderson said...

I love this! And it seems so obvious to use sounds with moods, but I have never consciously thought about doing it. Awesome! Thanks. :)

Eric said...

Great post. Ironically, I just got done with a similar post on description as well. I really like your examples though.

Suzanne said...

Wow! Thanks for this. And even in silence there is the heartbeat. The alive that lives in our head and in the very breath of us (and them, those people we create!)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

BJ suggested I check out your post and I'm glad I did. :) Thanks for the great advice.

Linda Sandifer said...

Thanks all. Glad it was helpful. I liked the reminder that in the dead of silence there is always the heartbeat!

turtlewoman said...

Hello, I just found your great blog. I recently finished writing a creative piece ( still revising) about the language and vocalizations of coyotes including silence. This post on silence gives me a bit more to think about.

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