Sounds in Silence

I wish John Williams would craft a soundtrack to my entire novel... something to accompany the appropriate moods through the story.  Related to that, one of the challenges of writing a novel is using sounds as part of the story.  

For example, in real life, if you hear glass break, you just hear it. Crack.  You don't take eight words to think, Now I'm hearing the sound of breaking glass.  It's a challenge, I think, to startle readers with sounds.  

Additionally, sounds are so often part of the ambience of a scene, rather than the content, that drawing attention to them can be distracting.  It's a balancing act to set the audio scene without making your reader feel like they need to swat away bugs.

I've picked a few sentences about sounds from The Senator's Youngest Daughter to share with you today.  (I'm trying to avoid **spoilers** [River song's voice], so these might not be verbatim from the book.)  By the way, I break glass in my novel a lot, and only this exercise pointed it out to me!  I didn't include all of those references; you'd have needed a band-aid.

  • Cement makes a surprisingly high-pitched sound as it cracks, almost like glass. 

There are so many sounds in an explosion.  Imagine a movie's foley artist watching a scene and slowly layering the sounds of each object you see being affected by the bomb or impact: first the bomb, then the flying fruit cart, the gasoline igniting, the yells of the people in the marketplace, the ceramic jars toppling, the building collapsing, the windows cracking...  Novelists don't have that privilege.  In my scene, I needed to focus on just one thing Brenna heard so I could get back to the action.  Here, I tuned into the facade of the building.

  • Cows moo restlessly, the sound accentuated by the night’s stillness. 

This is a scene-setter.  It's relevant to the loneliness my protagonist is feeling at a time, so it was worth including.  The cows feeling "restless" isa little bit of her projecting her feelings onto them.  The stillness is a contrast to her deep desire to take action and be impulsive.

  • The thud is cushioned, but I still wince as the sound reverberates through the hollow elevator shaft.

I love the word thud.  It's onomatopoeia without being silly.  In this case, since the characters are trying to be sneaky, every sound is a threat.  This thud could be the difference between success and failure, life and death!

  • A sudden scraping sound catches our attention, and we all whirl around, pointing our weapons at whatever will emerge from behind a nearby dumpster. 

This time, the hunted is the hunter.  (Cliché alert!)  Rather than any sound giving my characters away, they are now on the prowl, tuned into every sound.  Bummer that it might turn out to be just garbage blowing in the wind... you know, either that or the bad guy!