the sound of silence

Shanghai at night

Do you pay attention to including sound when you write? I was discussing this with another writer and both of us default to the visual. If we need a creative person in the narrative, they are invariably a painter because we know something of that world (she was married to an artist). She’s going to try including a musician instead. I have not included a musician in my cast of characters, but I do try to be aware of sounds in the narrative.

New Zealand Sound

One of my mentors, Rob Roberge, is a musician as well as a skilled writer and not coincidentally broke me of the habit of including silence as in “They rode home in silence.” He pointed out that we rarely experience true silence. There are always sounds and the challenge is to tune into the ambient sound for your scene and then describe it. Today, in U.S. cities, there’s more sound than ever. Good luck going into almost any store without music either in the background or blasting. There are whole fields devoted to studying the effect of all this noise on us. What about your characters? How do they react to noise? Do they make a lot of noise? Has overexposure damaged their hearing or affected their anger level? What are the small sounds when they are in a quiet environment? Is there construction down the road, traffic, neighbors? Are the surfaces in their environment hard or soft? That will affect sound as well. City or nature, suburbs or wilderness? You can also use sound to play with time by dialing down the exterior sounds and focusing on a character’s thoughts, slowing everything down, drawing out a significant moment.

There’s the sound of the text itself and the sounds within the narrative. Your created world will benefit from taking some time, even doing a pass when you finish writing, to focus on this one sensory element. How do you include sound when you write? Are you more concerned with the sound of the words as written or the sounds engulfing your characters?

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