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August 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

August 3In 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.



  1. Norah says:

    What richness your post holds, as usual, Charli. Those fires over there are dreadful. I’ve recently seen footage of fires near LA that have done enormous damage, and to see them near you as well is just terrible. We have dreadful fires here too, but they seem to happen more frequently over there and on a larger scale than here. Yet our countries are similar in area. I guess much of Australia is desert. Perhaps there is less to burn. I think the number and intensity of our fires could be further reduced if Indigenous fire management practices were followed. What important work those fire fighters do. Like the military and the police, we must be grateful for their efforts, which often go unnoticed and unappreciated.
    Interesting work that Todd is engaged in – “personal pleasure jets and casinos” – probably wouldn’t hurt one of those anonymous clients to fund a home or two for the homeless! If only they thought.
    You mentioned your difficulty with writing about sound. I have always loved the beauty in the pictures your words create – definitely visual. But I saw (or heard) nothing lacking in either of your flash fiction pieces. The first with the fireworks and Ike thinking it was gunfire, reminded me of a movie I saw as a child – “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”. I recall a scene that showed the children crouching so as not to be seen as planes flew overhead while they were making their escape. For many years after I would feel that fear at the sound of planes. Even to this day, when planes go overhead, or I hear fireworks, I wonder what it must be like to live in places where these sounds create fear and dread because they mean that horrible things are happening; and I am grateful for the safety of my home.
    I did enjoy Larry’s story and his use of onomatopoeia. I like your suggestion of writing about sound as well, and am pleased that you mention the popularity of audiobooks. I listened to “The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr on my flights to New York. She talked about the carnality of experiences – the physicality, the senses – and the importance of drawing upon all of the senses and recording them in memoir. I had also prepared a post about audiobooks for my blog tomorrow. I think I’ll keep it to respond to your challenge – just have to think of a flash now!
    I’ve used too many words – perhaps you should limit comments to 99 words!
    Love Disturbed’s version of Sounds of Silence. Thanks for sharing.
    Beautiful flashes. I particularly like Sarah hearing ‘critters tip-toeing in the dark’. And you don’t do sounds well!

    • Charli Mills says:

      The fires in the forested mountains have more fuel and more potential to explode. Moses Lake has fires sweeping through, too but less fuel (grass and brush). Still, some homes have been lost. Yes, Todd’s job is interesting. Last week, they had to delay on installing a hot tub (on a plane!) because the FFA wouldn’t approve it, but the did approve slot machines and gaming tables. Todd said the carpet installation alone cost $500,000! Crazy. I was thinking of you and audiobooks! Also, my radial engine daughter and her husband have read well over 40 books to each other. I’m glad we were in sync on topics this week! Thank you, Norah!

      • Norah says:

        I hope the fires are halted before they burn all the fuel. It’s tragic.
        $500,000 for carpet on an aircraft, not to mention hot tubs, gaming tables and slot machines! Crazy indeed!
        I’m impressed (and slightly envious) that your daughter and her hub have read over 40 books to each other. That must be wonderful for their relationship, and so much more rewarding and empowering than sitting watching, in silence, rubbish on tv. (I almost used my audiobook post today, then thought better of it and did something else instead, so still have it for my response to your challenge.)

      • Charli Mills says:

        Another fire started just east of us, and burned close. We watched that one closely. Yes, crazy items for a plane. We must not be the target audience for that one! 🙂 As for the reading, together, I’ve benefited as well. Over-hearing chapters got me to read authors I might have missed! I’m developing a greater appreciation for audiobooks.

  2. C. Jai Ferry says:

    I love Disturbed and their remakes (they’ve done several, all great). So thanks for that. I love cussing too (when authentic) 🙂 But fire terrifies me (in that way-too-irrational fear sort of way that makes me unplug everything in the house and causes me to collect extinguishers…as if they would even help when I have panic attacks and have to rush home to make sure the house hasn’t burned down). And this morning I logged on to Twitter and saw different fire departments using Twitter to call out for help from other depts to deal with a house fire and the other depts responding via Twitter…which is just odd to me. Has Twitter really become our fastest medium of communication for emergency responders? The good news is all ppl and dogs made it out of house alive. The bad news is several firefighters were injured/suffered heat exhaustion. So the sound I am hearing now is a thwumping in my head as I try to understand everything & a cowering squeak of a response begging for more caffeine to help the synapses connect or fire off or whatever they are supposed to do.

    thwump thwump eep. thwump thwump eep.

    At least it has rhythm. 😉

    • Charli Mills says:

      Fire is one of those fearful fixations — terrifying yet transfixing to watch (and, no, I’m not a pyro, but I still feel awe each year when the fires start up). We do travel with fire extinguishers when going into the mountains and I noticed I have one in my camper! That’s an interesting observation about Twitter. When Todd texted me that the airfield at the airport caught fire, I looked through all news sources and the only one that had the fire was Twitter! And it was a series of tweets like you describe. So once I got the hashtag that’s how I kept informed. I’m glad your local housefire didn’t take lives. The fire here burned through a ranch, but with the fence burned, the horses all escaped. Whew! Ha, ha! You better go fuel that thwumping squeak!

  3. D. M. Seyfer says:

    Here is my submission for the Flash Fiction Challenge for Aug. 3

    Silent Night on the Prairie is so visual. I long to sit out on a wooden front porch where there is nothing but me and the darkness of nature. Under a backdrop of fire season that surely is unnerving but also exciting in a way. Much like military and law enforcement run to danger while others run away, I run to dark themes in my writing.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for joining us at Carrot Ranch! What a great observation about writing dark themes the way military or law enforcement run toward danger. I’ve always felt that a writer needs to honor the inclination to write in the light, or to write in the darkness. One spreads light and the other clears a path to let darkness out so light can shine in. And yes, I have dueling inclinations toward fire, recognizing how extraordinary and awesome they are while being so deadly and destructive. I think firefighters, on the ground and in the air, are heroic too — charging at the flames.

  4. […] August 3: Flash Fiction Challenge 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. […]

  5. julespaige says:

    Determined not to be last this time. This prompt worked in with a special sound wordle.

    Harmonic Notes?
    (an Elfje series plus)

    Was a
    Thready percussive crackle
    That rustled my dreams;

    To interrupt
    My pastoral nocturne
    With a deafening buzz –

    Will not
    Allow your scratching,
    Whistling gurgle to echo

    Be gone strident
    Horror! I ‘will’ sonorous


    Words can be sounding boards to thoughts that rattle
    inside our brains. Writers let words out by scratching
    on paper. Making us feel minutely better.

    The story isn’t always the whole picture. The nightmare
    we mask can often be found by looking in the mirror.
    If we allow some reflection when we look at ourselves.


    Please see the link for the 15 word ‘sound’ wordle list:
    Harmonic Notes?

  6. I don’t know that I captured sound, but I hope I’m not too far from the mark. 🙂

    Shared Song
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Minnie honed her voice in hour-long showers until her father pounded the need to use the bathroom. She imagined music circling her like a diva’s gown. She felt rhythms as she walked to school.
    Sunday, she’d share her gift with the world.
    She primped until she shone like a Pop-star. Although she donned a white robe, Minnie knew she stood out – Younger, more vibrant, more talented than the others. She’d show them.
    Music echoed. She filled her diaphragm with air and ambition and belted out the song. Soprano notes echoed. Proud, Minnie bowed, which stunned-to-silence the St. John’s congregation

    • Charli Mills says:

      From shower to cathedral, I enjoyed how the sound of her music enveloped until it was belted out for others to hear. A wonderful melding of sounds and visions.

  7. Great post and fun prompt. Here’s where the sound took me. (No onomatopoeia this time.):

  8. denmaniacs4 says:

    The Son

    “What’s your name, boy,” Dobbs enquired.

    “Gifford Barnaby, Sir. Junior, Sir.”

    Dobbs nodded, as if the additional appellation was necessary.

    The boy’s voice was as flat, as blackened as dried blood. Caldwell had not only killed the boy’s father, he had serrated his spirit. His fatigue was beyond grief.

    “Where’s your mother, Gifford?”

    The web of death spun its bitter weave all over the stone carving that was Gifford Barnaby’s face. His tongue was muted in mute misery, as if he had fallen into his own grave.

    “Is she dead, Gifford?” Dobbs guessed.

    The orphan collapsed at Dobb’s feet.

    • denmaniacs4 says:

      I apologize for my somewhat sloppy submission. Here is a moderately revised rendition.

      The Son

      “What’s your name, boy,” Dobbs enquired.

      “Gifford Barnaby, Sir. Junior, Sir.”

      Dobbs nodded, as if the additional appellation was necessary.

      The boy’s voice was as flat, as blackened as dried blood. Caldwell had not only killed the boy’s father, he had serrated his spirit. His fatigue was beyond grief.

      “Where’s your mother, Gifford?”

      The web of death spun its bitter weave all over the stone carving that was Gifford Barnaby’s face. His tongue was shackled in mute misery, as if he had fallen into his own grave.

      “Is he dead, Gifford?” Dobbs guessed.

      The orphan collapsed at Dobb’s feet.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Great tension in this scene, and what a powerful and horrific act summed up muteness. I didn’t think the first version was sloppy at all, and sometimes we do slap out a flash and sometimes we polish. It’s more the act of getting one out there. But I like that we get to see your adept hand tightening that sentence about the tongue. That’s a great edit!

  9. A. E. Robson says:

    By Ann Edall-Robson

    The sound reverberates off the hills. The valley floor is stilled of action as the sun slips quietly behind the distant mountains. Unfamiliar shadows move silently among the trees.

    Soon darkness will take over. Alone, once again, to face the hush that cascades over the land. No vehicles. No people. No urban light. Only the tranquil sound of nothing as the day fades.

    Embracing the mind and soul completely. Moving freely to another dimension. Soothing, and left to soon wander under the stars. The moon’s glow lighting the trails across the meadow.

    ​How loud this sound of quiet is.

  10. Sounds in writing. Yes. It’s a challenge for some. I use it but it tends toward the boring.Whispers, roars…so I get this. Will challenge myself this week. You did a great job in your flashes. Excellent.

    I absolutely love that remake of Sound of Silence. Even though I love the original, this one is extremely powerful.

  11. Annecdotist says:

    It adds further insult to those down on their luck when you have to earn your keep servicing the ridiculous projects of those with more money than they know what to do with. Poor Todd – and you having to watch him go out to that crazy job!
    I think most of us are better at conjuring the visual than the other senses, though always worth trying to work out what a scene smells and sounds like. And you’ve captured in your flash how different interpretations of an ambiguous sound can reflect character.
    While I’m still bracing myself to subject myself to the peculiar sound of my own voice on a radio interview I did last week, I’ve composed my flash around another sound that always excites me at the end of summer – it’s the call of the (not very) wild of the English countryside:

    • Charli Mills says:

      Todd is doing well to focus on the work and not the ridiculousness of the projects. He likes to get to see the big bombers (they drop fire retardant, now) and the Boeing planes do touch and goes on the airfield. Better to be satisfied with what one has rather than long for a hot tub in the sky! 🙂

      Why is it that hearing one’s voice on radio or recording is odd? It may not be the voice you hear, but I like hearing your voice! And you surprised me with your flash! I listened without looking for clues of the sound and read your flash simultaneously. That was a fun experience and I didn’t accurately guess! Bugling elk is one sound that is exciting to hear in the mountains during the season of rut.

      • Annecdotist says:

        I suppose it’s because when we speak ordinarily we don’t hear our voice the way others hear it, so it’s a shock to find out how it really sounds – but I do likewise love hearing the voices of you and others I’ve only met online.
        Ah, but maybe you didn’t guess my sound because the images didn’t work – it is quite a challenge to put noise into words.
        Hurrah for Todd that he can enjoy his work and switch off from the nonsense of what his employers are trying to achieve.

      • Charli Mills says:

        I prefer to think we don’t record accurately, ha! But yes, I know we don’t hear ourselves as others do. I enjoyed your descriptions but didn’t realize that was what red deer sound like in rut. Amazing!

  12. This weeks prompt took me to a dark place. Hope you like it.

  13. […] Written for Charli Mills’ weekly 99-word prompt challenge, on the theme of “the sense of sound” – […]

  14. Al Lane says:

    Here’s my story for the week, “Sound” 🙂

    I bathe in sound. I sample nibbles of pleasure from each vibration darting across my ear drums and diving into my cortex, translated into a sensuous internal orgy, savouring each soft contact. Conducting each stochastic orchestra, I stand proud and revel in the tempo and timpani of the beats of life, vibrant, swayful, playful. I zealously horde rictus rhythms, stockpiling them deep in psychological vaults, ready to access at a moment’s notice, always ready for me. Dextrous fingers tap out the beat, luxuriating in the lovers’ secret dance, beneath covers of shame…

    It’s the silence that fills my nightmares.

  15. […] Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

  16. […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s August 3 Flash Fiction Challenge Sound […]

  17. Daal says:

    Love this. & the song reminds me that copying, when done with integrity, is truly an homage to the original artist.

  18. Gee! Charli you caught my flaw here…gulp!

    I am so much of a ‘tell’ person than ‘show’ that I had a tough time writing this…I hope I did justice to your flash fiction.

    Loved the song and as usual I repeat…You have taught me in so many ways!

  19. […] week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about sound, and has challenged writers […]

  20. Norah says:

    Hi Charli, I decided not to go with the audiobooks after all. Instead I looked at onomatopoeia in children’s picture books, and tried my hand a writing a verse about a storm. Here’s the link.

  21. TanGental says:

    The sound of silence

    ‘Mum, Alma’s cat Lily is ill. Can I go round?’
    ‘Of course, Penny.’
    Penny walked quickly the three streets to Alma’s. Her mum opened the door. ‘In the utility. She likes the warm.’
    Alma knelt on a chair by the boiler, her hand tucked under the cat’s head. Alma’s lids looked heavy with recently shed tears. ‘She’s purring. Listen.’
    As Penny leant in close, she could hear the cat’s erratic rumbling.
    Later, Penny told her mum how Lily quietly slipped away in the afternoon. ‘We knew when it went quiet.’
    Mary hugged Penny. Sometimes, she thought, silence isn’t golden.

  22. Hope all is well. I need tosit and catch up m reading. I couldnt miss this prompt.. no way

    Heaven Sounds Falling Trees (Squints cont.)

    By Elliott Lyngreen

    When Chance determined how to be converted, to flash Sylvia right to…. that which is too insane written or told; that endless code, mad instructions filtered from planets, moons, and great stars/suns – mimicking scattered miracles, pieces/night… exchange transmission as sound; awaited her …[ know what be reals as rocks and rolls] to receive the puzzled recording which domino the rearrangement of speaker stabs explaining invisible wavelengths and transforming [indubitable lyrics pouring out instrumental] through space [reach!] like finally moving [Touch me!] God in that infamous Chapel ceiling [when flipped, switch, my echoes,..]. Hitting play [my loves and] …click[Bam! We on the fuckin moon!]

    • Charli Mills says:

      Settled for now! 😉 Having an office makes the difference. Ah, great sound sequence and continuation. I feel like this reads how dialing in a station on a radio sounds like. Oh, yes, and the reminder that cuss words without a “g” have a sound of their own!

      • Haha sorry for the language but i felt it had a better effect for the instantaneous teleport-like sensation…. Great! to read things are coming together for you Charli. And, as always, thanks for raging. God bless.

      • Charli Mills says:

        It’s always a word choice and that’s part of the fun, isn’t ? Thanks!

  23. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about sound, and has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the sense of sound. It can be an onomatop… […]

  24. lucciagray says:

    Hi charli!
    Here’s mine, at last!
    I’ve been busy launching book 3 and now I’m on holiday waiting for my grandchild no. 4 to be born!
    This week’s prompt inspired me to get back into the swing of Carrot Ranch!
    Hope all’s well with you 🙂
    All the best, Lucy.

  25. lucciagray says:

    Sorry, sent wrong link!
    It’s the sound of th waves driving me nuts!

  26. […] another little 99-word story for this week’s Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge, on the topic of sound. This story is inspired by the life of a good friend of […]

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