When you hear a common sound, or something buried in the everyday bustle, you dismiss it without a second thought. Think about it: how often do you stop and listen to the cawing of a raven or crow? And when was the last time you paid attention to the clicking of a stoplight? They fade into the general background of our lives – present but not particularly of interest. If you take a “common” sound and transplant it into a different situation, though, we start to take notice and pay attention. And for anyone with even a spark of imagination?
Yeah, writing catalyst!
Let me give you the perfect example. This weekend, my husband I went kayaking at a pond. Not a well-known state park, and we only saw a couple of other people the entire time. That meant the only sounds we heard (save when we got closer to the road) involved nature. And while I DID major in marine biology, we were miles from the coast. So I didn’t recognize the birds and frogs well enough other than to place the calls into a general, “Birds and Frogs” category. But most people who’ve spent any time in the natural world could do that. What caught my attention, though, was the creaking of the cypress trees.
Have you ever heard one? I could offer a dozen different descriptions. And that’s where my point comes in. At one point, in the middle of pure quiet, the groan circled around us. I glanced over my shoulder, and my first thought was, Where is there a house out here? It put me in mind of a squeaky door, and I had an immediate flash of a dilapidated shack, perched up on the roots of the trees. My rational brain reminded me there was no way a house existed out there, but the sound conjured the immediate image.
Laughing, I mentioned the thought to my husband. And then I really started ruminating on the sound, turning it over and over in my head. Was it a creaky door? Or did it have overtones of a voice? Maybe a moan? Could I layer something more into it, if I really thought about it? As we continued paddling, I tossed out the casual observance that, if you heard something like a cypress out at night, it wouldn’t take much to convince yourself you’d heard something otherworldly or supernatural. And while we started laughing about some of the paranormal shows we’ve watched, the thought stuck.
What other sounds could I warp?
Even knowing the cypress forest around us held responsibility for the snaps and creaks, my imagination took off running. The shapes of the trees were already strange. And with duckweed covering so much of the water – not to mention the tannin load obscuring the rest of your view to the bottom – the quiet pond made for the perfect setting for ANYTHING. And the more I continued to pay attention to those sounds and think of the potential possibilities they represented? I found myself with plenty of stories bubbling away – horror, dark fantasy, fantasy. Play the sound for a generic audience of characters and ask them for their opinion, and the plots wrote themselves.
And you can do the same thing! Whether you decide to venture out into nature to find a sound of your own or simply pay attention to something “germane” in your daily life. ANYTHING has the potential to catch your ear if you keep your mind open. Because no two people catch the same thing. Going back to those paranormal shows (which, I admit, I don’t take seriously – other than the fact they’re the best cure for insomnia I’ve yet found), I never hear anything they claim. And if you ask someone who isn’t reading a script for the show, they probably don’t, either. Everyone’s wired a little differently. So work with that! Cast your characters into various backgrounds, lock them in a room, and hit play on a tape recorder (or, you know, MP3 player – whatever). Then “record” their reactions.
You won’t regret the exercise. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself with at least ONE new story to play with.