Friday, January 29, 2016

Writer Super Power #1: Hearing

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Writers have super powers. Did you know that? It's true. We do. YOU do. You have super powers. And like all superheroes, you'll discover, if you haven't already, that there is a HUGE learning curve to navigate once you've been bitten by that radioactive spider. 

Various aspects of the writing life might come naturally to you, but just as Spiderman had to hone his spidey sense, you too will have to hone the gifts you've been given. The upside is that, unlike Spiderman, you shouldn't feel compelled to keep your super powers a secret. We can train together!

Over the next few Fridays, we'll be doing just that. Taking one sense at a time and discussing just how this God-given sense can be a multi-faceted tool in your writing toolbox. I'm going to do my best to keep this series as streamlined as possible. To do that, I'll be addressing each sense from three different angles. Today we'll focus on HEARING.

Quick note: Some of us may struggle, physically or otherwise, with one or more of these senses. I don't want you to think I'm overlooking that. In fact, I'd welcome thoughts in the comments section from those who do struggle with a specific sense. I'd love to know if and how you choose to engage with readers in such areas.

1. What the WRITER hears
The ability to listen to the world around us is a gift we often take for granted. What we hear touches us. It can steal our focus or refine it. The noises we hear can give or deplete energy, it can force us to take action or refrain. It can change the atmosphere around us and even alter our mood.

When I write, I often listen to movie soundtracks. No words, just loud music blasting through my earphones, keeping the outside world at bay. Music helps create the cave-like atmosphere I need in order to step cleanly from my world and into another. It's like my own private doorway to Narnia. But I never, ever listen to epic movie soundtracks when I'm not writing. I used to, but over time, after listening to them again and again, these pounding, escalating, scene-setting ballads have come to represent something of my work life. My cave. And when I emerge from my cave--blinking and tired and starved for sunlight--I need to hear a different sound.

Lately, when I'm not writing, I've been listening to a Pandora station called French Cafe. The music takes me swooping back to a very specific time in my life. I was eighteen years old when I left home and moved from a sunny California valley to Portland, Oregon, a mystical land with eclectic cafes on every corner. The cafe culture was all so new and bright and intoxicating to me. Everywhere I went, there was this music. I'd soak it up, my hands wrapped around a warm mug as I stared out at a misty world that looked so different from the one I grew up in (though it was just a 9 hour drive away). You know what I felt in those moments? Freedom. 

Now, when I turn on French Cafe, that's what I feel. Eighteen years old again, curious about everything, and free to explore all the possibilities just outside the cafe door.

Sound has that kind of power. What we hear can transport us through time and space. It can evoke memories and generate emotion. And it's not just music. Conversations and poetry, nature chirping away in the tree outside, the ocean crashing against stone, the click, click, click of a keyboard, the snap of a twig in a dark forest, the tone of your father's voice on a late night phone call. The things we hear move us, compel us, they force us to feel something. 

"But that happens to everyone," you say. "Not just writers." 

True enough, and so, to turn the gift of hearing into a super power, the writer's job is to refine this very ordinary skill. You must become an expert at remembering just what that sound made you feel, what it did to others, how those words destroyed or built up, how the music of a trumpet set your teeth on edge. You have to move past simply hearing. You have to listen. Such observations are powerful in the hands of a writer. They carry the kind of experience that will add depth and humanity to your scenes. They'll add truth to your fiction and authenticity to your characters. Which brings me to . . .

2. What the CHARACTERS hear
Most of our characters hear the world around them just as you do, just as your readers do. But your characters should have a history and it should not be your history. They should have memories that include things they've heard: noisy parties and night-shattering gunshots, wailing babies and fighting parents, whispered secrets and careless prayers. The things your hero hears can be used to transport him (and the reader!) into memories from his past or into tremulous anticipation for the future. Maybe he hears things that terrify him or inspire, words that force him into action. 

This is where your craft is going to come into play. How will you describe what your character hears? What words will you use? What about your tone? Are there sounds specific to your story world? How can these noises make your world and your characters unique? How can the things you, the author, have heard inform your storytelling? Just a few of the many questions worth asking yourself when you consider the noises that surround the characters in your story.

3. What the READER hears
Drawing on our own experiences is a very natural thing to do when we tell a story. But it would be wrong of us to forget that each and every reader comes to the story with their own history. The things they've heard--the music of their childhood, the hum of the bees zipping over summer grasses, the backfiring of a car engine--likely conjure images rooted in the reader's own life experience. This is neither a good or bad thing. It just is. And you, as the writer, need to be aware of it. At times, you may need to work extra hard to melt away a preconceived notion. At other times, the reader's own backstory will add a depth to his reading experience that you may never know. 

Stories belongs to readers just as much as they belong to writers. The life they've lived up until that point, the things they've heard, their responses to the voices they've listened to, will play some role as they venture into your fictional world. 

Let's finish our superhero training session today with a free-writing prompt. You can participate in the comments section or on your own, if you prefer.

Tell me about YOUR FAVORITE SOUND or about THE SOUND YOU HATE MOST. 
What is it that compels so much emotion? 
  
Come back throughout the weekend to encourage your friends.

Also, THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the interview and giveaway my munchkins hosted last week. Rafflecopter has chosen a winner: Robin J. Congratulations, Robin! Please check your email for more details.

23 comments:

  1. Wow, this was wonderful! I really loved it. Conveying what one of my characters hears is both easy and hard for me. (Weird, I know :P) It's easy when I'm talking about a sound: laughter, birds chirping, plates slamming onto the table, the door opening. But I struggle when trying to make the reader "hear" what the character hears when sensing a change in the tone of a voice: as when the voice hardens, softens, raises, lowers, etc. But I'm working on it :)

    My favorite sound? Hmmm. I think my favorite sounds come at night, when the house is dark: hearing the little rustle of blankets, the whir of the heater, the whine of cicadas and june bugs (in summer), the scratch of my pen in my notebook as I write with a flashlight. Those sounds are the best :)

    And sounds that I hate? Voices raised in anger/dissension, the little insistent noises of someone fidgeting, and someone thumbing carelessly through a book, even tearing it.

    Oh, and I wanted to say: I listen to music as I write, too! I have specific playlists for different stories :) Only, I listen to music WITH words - and I don't know why that doesn't bother/distract me - but it doesn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is tricky, isn't it? Especially hard to do without using those telling words like hear and sound.

      Delete
  2. My favorite sound is a crackling fire, especially when it's cold outside. I also love the sound of the ocean crashing against the shore--for real, though, not a recording or something, which means I don't get to hear it all that often. :(
    My most hated sounds are chalk against a chalkboard (weird, I know) and anything against Styrofoam.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THE OCEAN is my favorite everything. Sound, sight, smell, touch. Not taste, though. Hmmmm.

      Delete
  3. This is such a wonderful idea! I love crunchy, crackly, snappy sounds like fires and leaves. I also like gentle noises--opening books, the sound of fabric. Those to me can be easily overlooked, but they are such a huge part of ambience it seems like a shame to forget them.

    I've never listened to music while I write, now that I think about it. Sometimes when I'm editing. Do you have soundtracks you visit again and again?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Soft noises are often overlooked! Good call. I listen to the James Horner Pandora station. It plays all sorts of noisy movie soundtracks. And Pandora's free, so, you know, for cheapskates like me, it's perfect.

      Delete
  4. I was actually wondering how to write newly-deaf characters and then this post comes up. And suggestions? Also, I thought I was the only one who listened to epic music. Now I know I'm not alone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hm. Good question. I wonder if we have any deaf writers that could weigh in. And you are so not alone. Sometimes I need silence. Sometimes I would pay BIG MONEY for silence, but loud works for me often enough.

      Delete
  5. I think my favorite sound is a horn-call. It resounds everywhere and makes me feel strong, somehow. Besides that I also really enjoy the sound of my fingers going quickly over a keyboard, because it reminds me that I'm actually getting something done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooo. Interesting. Yes, keyboard sounds are lovely. It's like saying, "Take this, monster of fear and self-doubt!"

      Delete
  6. I'd like to echo (apologies!) what Rosie said –– this is really wonderful. In particular, it helped for me to recognise that what I hear, what my character hears, and what the reader hears, are 3 different things, informed by different histories, memories, cultural and family experiences, etc.

    Really thought provoking and expansive. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Right! I think we forget how powerful sound is in our own lives.

      Delete
  7. This is a great post Mrs. Dittemore! I love the sound of rushing water, strong wind, cicadas chirping, reeds rustling, waves crashing on the shore, rumbling thunder, and I could go on :). I tend to like nature sounds.

    Sounds I don't like? Hmm ... well, one of them is (same as Rosie) someone carelessly thumbing through a book. I can't stand it when someone dog-ears the pages of my books, and I don't know why :).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh friend! We have so much in common and yet . . . I am an unabashed dog-earer.

      Delete
  8. Excellent post! I've never heard or read anything of the type. My favorite sound would have to be the clack of typing on a keyboard, soft music playing the the background, and the little sounds that come with silence. Breathing, the incessant ticking of a clock, crickets chirping. But something that tops all of that would have to the the pitter-patter of rain. I don't know why, but I find it absolutely lovely.

    By least favorite sound would have to be nails scratching on a blackboard. It makes me feel like tearing my hair out :).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes. Ick. Nails on most anything is a freaky sound. I LOVE the sound of rain. Out here in California, El Nino has made sure we're hearing a lot of it this weekend.

      Delete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've always loved the sound of a piano, whether I'm playing it or not (in consequence, I usually listen to Beethoven when I write). But--I absolutely hate the sound of the tines of a metal fork being scraped across a ceramic plate or bowl--really picks on my poor eardrums.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, yes! Forks are nearly as bad as chalk. I wonder if you can work that into a story somehow???

      Delete
  11. I love listening to music while writing. My favorite noise is probably the noise the wind makes. My least favorite sound is probably chewing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ew chewing. Yes. And the brushing of teeth. Gag.

      Delete

Home