Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Seeing with your ears..

One of the quotes I found for the sound workshop (see below) was WRITERS SEE WITH THEIR EARS.

I've been thinking about this a lot - as far as I can work out, there are three things here:

a) That the uses of senses in our writing needs to be subliminal. We don't want just to write straight clunky statements, but for our readers to actually see, smell, taste what we're writing about. Like Orwell's 'the feelies'. Metaphors come in here, and also mixing up our senses. A good exercise for this is to write a list of nouns, then a list of verbs, mix these up so you might have THE DOOR SCREAMS ... and then finish with a different sense than the ones you might imagine. So ... rather than THE DOOR SCREAMS LIKE A (another sound) you have THE DOOR SCREAMS LIKE THE GRAININESS OF ICE-CREAM ON YOUR TONGUE. Ok, that one's a bit strange but keep going, you'll find one you love.

b) The rhythm of our words - through our sentence patterns, our alliteration, word sounds - can mirror what we want the reader to hear, as well as the meaning. This is as much in prose as poetry. See this extract from Annie Dillards' Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to see how you can do it:

Shadows lope along the mountain's rumpled flanks; they elongate like root tips, like lobes of spilling water, faster and faster. A warm purple pigment pools in each ruck and tuck of the rock... As the purple vaults and slides, it tricks out the unleafed forest and rumpled rock in gilt, in shape-shifting patches of glow ... The air cools; the puppy's skin is hot. I am more alive than all the world.

Not a sound explicitly described there, but whether you like the style of the piece or not, it's impossible to read without 'hearing it'.

That sound - or the music in our words - can give an atmosphere and tell the story is well-known by anyone who works in films. It's why my automatic response to hearing the da-da-da in any horror movie I'm unlucky enough to go to, is to clap my hands over my eyes. I don't want to see the music any more, thank you.

(Carlos has been editing some of the Tiny Circus animations, and adding brilliant soundtracks by the composer Lee Ferguson. As a writer, what I'm finding both shocking and interesting is how that music covers much of what I thought only adding words could do in terms of giving all the clues as to what's going on.

Here's one of my current favourites - The History of Smiles (I just have to say looking at this again, I'm so proud to be a small part of this whole project. And this wasn't even one I was involved in!))

c) and lastly, there's the magical writer's voice we can try to hard too find, before suddenly finding we've 'got' it. But as Al Alvarez warns in the Writer's Voice, your writing voice may not necessarily be the one you want to hear. We can try too hard to be a 'serious' writer, for example, (not least because that might please our parents etc) when what our 'voice' is happiest speaking is teenage humour - and suddenly by going with what is authentic, we write about are amazingly serious issues.

Anyway, when I was thinking about all this, I was also browsing blogs and it struck me how many I enjoyed had some kind of soundtrack going on. I'm thinking particularly of Blackpitts Garden (hmmm... music, writing and gardening, no wonder I keep popping back for more), Danielle LePorte's White Hot Truth, and, this is a no-brainer because it's about music, Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise.

I want to hear more about what bloggers are listening to as they write. Personally I have to write to music. Each book I've written has its own little soundtrack going on, and listening to that soundtrack is a shortcut to getting back to the particular rhythm of that writing. But I don't expect readers to listen along with me. Laura Esquivel did, of course, with her Law of Love, which came with a CD to play while you read, and it really does give a whole different dimension to the experience. However, I'm not aware of any others, which is a shame so if you know of more, please let me know.

So from now on, each post on this blog is going to have its own little soundtrack, and I'm going to work on how I can put these into a series of short stories I'm planning. And as I write this I'm listening to Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones (which could expain the fragmentary nature of what I've just written!)


Fiona Robyn said...

I have a different soundtrack for each book too - the things I know my characters would be listening to - Johnny Cash for my gardener, Leonard, and big band music for Violet from The Letters... at the moment I'm writing about Joe and it's all about the Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros!

SueG said...

This is fascinating, Sarah. But, you know, although music plays a big part of my life, I can't write and listen to music at the same time. It's like I have to have a vacuum in my head in order to write, otherwise my focus shifts and I just sit there listening. But I know lots of people who need music in order to work (both my sons and my husband for example). Really interesting.

JJ said...

I'm a bit jealous actually. I cannot, can not, write to music. Just can't...I 'm quite a lot jealous of you.

Sarah Salway said...

Interesting, Fiona. It really helps me with all sorts of cultural references too.
And Sue and JJ, the space you obviously both need is fascinating too - what I find about listening is that I can't really cope with anything too strong on lyrics, whereas normally this is what I really look for.

jem said...

Interesting stuff. You comments about mixing up the senses reminded me of synesthesia - I think writers need to employ a form of that. I'm a firm believer in the poetry of prose, nothing like a bit of gentle rhythm and rhyme to help along a paragraph.

I'm with SueG about the music though - I love it, but can't do it at the same time as writing, or I'm just too influenced by the music, specifically the lyrics or the overall tone, and I'm just writing a rehashed version of the album. Will be fun to see your soundtrack though.

Sarah Salway said...

Jem, I've just remembered I owe you some prose - I've got it. Will email you.