In the pre-dawn light I hear the Hub mumble, “radial engines.” I awaken to hear a roar overhead and wonder what it was like to experience the sound of radial engines in the sky during WWII. Both historians, but he thinks of the engines and I think of the experiences. Our eldest daughter is named for two radial engines, not that I was aware at the time of naming. However, as a writer, I can easily get hung up on sound. How does one describe the “roar” of a radial engine versus the roar of a lion or a firestorm?
A DC-10 is now stationed at Grant County International Airport because the fire season has blown up in central Washington, Idaho and western Montana. It’s a seasonal reality, one that has greater impact in modern times due to human populations near and within forests. The airport skirts the town of Moses Lake, Washington where I currently live un-homed in a camp trailer. The Hub works on Boeing 777s and 737s for unnamed executives retro-fitting commercial liners into personal pleasure jets and casinos. Next door to the hanger where he turns wrenches on jet engines, the old radial planes gather as bombers to dump borate on wildland fires.This particular airport once trained B52 Bomber pilots and has a 13,500 foot runway. Thus home to a variety of mega-planes, old and new.
Does sound matter to so silent an activity as writing?
Yes, because writers build a believable world for readers by using tangible details from which to suspend their story. Sound is vital to construction. However, similar to learning styles, typically a writer will construct with a dominate sense (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch). I know that I’m a visual writer. I can create scenes that readers can “see.” Yet I also know I tend to forget some of the other senses. I’m a visual learner and sometimes a kinesthetic one. Sound is actually difficult for me to capture and describe. Therefore I often challenge myself on the spot to describe a sound or push past a cliche like “the radial engines roared.”
What do I notice? The sound is distinct and it builds as it gets closer. It has a feel to it, like a vibrational rumble. It’s a landslide in heaven, a detonation overhead, a passing combustion. Roar is also an onomatopoeia; a word that sounds like what it describes. If I try to replicate the sound (and keep in mind my auditory senses are my weakest), I might use bruuummm. At 4 a.m. a DC-10 shook the trailer and bruuummmed overhead to wake us up, knowing fires yet blazed. I’ll keep working on it.
Last week, I was delighted to spot an onomatopoeia in Larry LaForge‘s flash fiction Home Office. I couldn’t help but notice the last line immediately: SWOOOOOOOOOOSH. Anticipating the character Ed’s affinity for sports, I expected the ending referred to a ball in a net. Ah, but Larry had a different sound in mind and it worked well to reveal where Ed’s home office resides. Swoosh is a fun word that tries to replicate the sound of rushing air…or water.
Then I received an email from one of our Rough Writers who had an interesting dilemma related to sound. Jean Lombardo has been cracking away at a client memoir and needed a meaning check. She had a scene peppered with cuss words and had replaced the strong language with soundalike words, including effing. She also had a clever replacement for an offensive phrase and if she joins in with her passage, I’ll let her share it with you (warning: it’s very Chaucerian, as in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale). And speaking of Chaucer, he used a fun onomatopoeia in that chapter from the Canterbury Tales: whoopee!
Can we cuss in our writing? The answer depends upon who is the intended audience for reading. Young ears, easily offended sensibilities or fundamentalists will avoid raw language. It’s why we have ratings for movies. Editors and clients might direct a writer one way or the other and publishers will have a keen sense for what will be acceptable to their market audience. If you are an indie writer, you might want to beta test both ways. Jeanne’s sampling all agreed the cussing needed to be raw to sound real.
Among the writers who join us at Carrot Ranch are poets and musicians. I admire the ear for sound such writers have, for balance upon the page they achieve for the silent words spoken in readers’ heads. When I was attending open mic nights in Sandpoint, I’d read from the Carrot Ranch compilations and discover how rich and rhythmic many of the 99-word stories sound aloud. Even when writing longer pieces, it’s a good practice to read one’s writing aloud. Many readers today are in truth, listeners. An entire industry within book publishing is audio-books.
Sound is relevant. Even the absence of sound has meaning. One of my favorite Simon and Garfunkle songs was recently remade by a hard rocker, Sound of Silence:
…People writing songs that voices never share…
…Take my words that I might teach you…
…Whispered in the sound of silence…
Writers, we can paint a soundscape of color and orchestrate stories with our mere arrangement of words. When you are writing, pay attention to all the senses and include sound. When you are revising, read aloud to shape the sound of your story. And decide to cuss explicit or use soundalikes.
Yes, you know where this is headed. First, a nod to those pilots flying the borate bombers. I hear you hard at work. The photo for our prompt this week is credited to Port of Moses Lake and is from the 2014 fire season and you can almost hear the roar of the DC-10 radials as it drops fire retardant. I know how dangerous the fires can be; history and modern reporting tell similar tales of fire’s unpredictable nature. The history book I picked up in Wallace, Idaho while camped on the Coeur D’Alene River is one I imagine my character Danni would read. And it recounts a horrific firestorm on August 4, 1931:
“The fire was burning practically everything from the bridge down to Brett Creek on an old burn that was full of fireweed and fallen timber. That hillside threw so much heat you couldn’t face it for more than half a minute at a time…The fire exploded in the mouth of Cinnamon draw and took off like goin’ up a chimney. Birds and game under it didn’t have a chance. It throwed up a great wave of flame…Then she boomed up and down and she throwed big waves up the drainage one after the other…The roar of the flames and the gale from the draft sucked in by the flames made a scream and that along with the sounds of smashing timber — Hell! — I couldn’t hear nothin’. I got off the horse and stood right along the fire chief and yelled in his ear and all I could see was his lips movin’…That whole Cinnamon Creek drainage went out in 8 minutes. The whole damn works. 8 minutes! 15 square miles. 8 minutes took the fire to Pond Creek and the divide…Night time it looked like a great city, spread over the mountains.”
That’s where we camped for three weeks, just below that drainage in northern Idaho. Now a similar blow up has occurred across the border in western Montana near Hamilton where the Hub’s great-great grandparents are buried. It’s called the Roaring Lion Fire and if you watch the time lapse sequence below, you will see what a roaring fire looks like. And we are now camped near the airport that launches the bombers to fight fires. It seems, there is always a connection to be found.
This amazing time lapse video of the Roaring Lion Fire is the creation of Montana photographer, Gary Schild.
August 3, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the sense of sound. It can be an onomatopoeia, a swearing session with sound alike substitutes, lyrical prose or a description of a sound. Go where you hear the prompt calling.
Respond by August 9, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
War Zone by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
Danni sloshed her peach margarita the night they set off the M-80s.
When the AR-15s blasted a volley into the darkness, Ike ordered Danni to the tent and dashed down the rutted dirt road, favoring his wounded knee. She complied only to dry her hand and restore the splash of peach spirits over limeade. It was the best part of the drink and she wasn’t going to let idiots lighting off fireworks on the far end of the campground disrupt a good nightcap. Ike would soon realize the sounds of war he heard were celebrations of a free nation.
Silent Night on the Prairie by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
Cicadas trilled from the honey locust trees and coyotes yipped in the distance, their song drifting further away. Sarah missed the sound of rushing creek water that used to lull all sounds at night. Here, on this vast stretch of prairie, it was so quiet she could hear critters tip-toe in the dark.
She sat up in bed. Horse hooves? By the time Sarah was certain, she heard men shouting from the camp at Rock Creek. Commotion. Low voices. None nearing her cabin, though. Should she dress? She hesitated. More horses, this time heading east. Then silence. And cicadas.