Sound Matters

In the real world we rely on sound/noises almost as much as the spoken word. They add emphasis to conversations or in some cases can be used in place of. It only makes sense that a sound uttered by a sentient being can carry emotion but can a sound make by an inanimate object do the same?


When writing, I use a number of different things to make a scene more real, more believable, more visual or audible and some of the methods I use are a bit, well, different. For instant, I used the phrase, or something similar to, “She rolled her eyes loudly”, I was met with a number of varying reactions. “How does one roll their eyes loudly” to “I could so see that!”. It all depends on how literal you are or on your ability to think outside the box, or in this case the words.

To clarify, if you are one of the ones who immediately thought “How does one roll their eyes loudly?”. It’s an image. When particularly exasperated, or when hearing one of my harebrained or goofy comments, my daughters will make a show of rolling their eyes, making sure everyone around them can see their reaction. Hence loudly. The other more audible version is instead of saying, “She rolled her eyes and sighed loudly”, which to me sounds like two different and separate actions, my version indicated that both of these actions happened at once.

See? Two different interpretations and yet both indicate exasperation.

But, can one take the same liberties with noises made by inanimate objects? I was struck with the notion when one of my daughters-you can see how they contribute to my madness-said the sound of cars passing on the road outside weren’t as soothing as boats passing on the lake at the cottage.

So my brain immediately thought, can the hiss of rubber on asphalt be construed as an “angry” sound? In writing, yes I would take that liberty. (Thanks James). But in real life is it indeed an angry sound? As I tried to separate my creative brain from my logical brain I think I found the answer. Not that the writer side of me wanted an answer.

What it boils down to is akin to the age-old philosophical riddle, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The emotion of the sound is fully dependant not only on the fertility of the mind perceiving it, but also the events that shaped that mind. For example, some people who grew up in a rural setting may perceive that tire hiss as angry or impatient whereas some that grew up in an urban setting might perceive it as soothing. And some may just hear it as noise.

So my question is, when reading a book and you stumble upon one of these “sound emotions”, do you feel it adds to the experience or do you scratch your head in confusion? If you are deaf, the question is moot (but I’d like to hear your thoughts on reading about sound) but opens up a topic for another time concerning the emotion laden movements of inanimate objects…

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About Dale Long

Writing ambushed me from the shadows. At first I pushed it aside as nonsense, but luckily my wife and two girls saw the potential. Since then I have had an article published by Metroland, placed as runner-up and in the top ten in humour writing contests and various other contests. The icing on the cake was placing as runner-up in the WCDR's Wicked Words contest (130 entries) and having my entry published in the contests anthology of the same name. My entry was an exerpt from my upcoming novel, Echoes.
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6 Responses to Sound Matters

  1. hmmmm…

    I am one of those who have trouble “hearing”, or at the least it kicks me out a bit when I read something like “rolled her eyes loudly”. But I have learned that in this literary world of rules that you can bend and break any of them if you keep it consistent. Maybe that’s the trick?

    PS – I do think tires on asphalt sounds angry!

    • Dale Long says:

      An expression speaks volumes.

      I think it’s one of those audio-visual things that can be based on ones own experiences. Kinda like accents or vernacular. Although being a mother of girls, I would expect you’ve been on the recieving end of a loud eyeroll once or twice . You just call it something else.

  2. Diane Dooley says:

    Your post made me think of when I moved to the country from the city. The quiet of the countryside was deafening! It kept me up at night.

  3. Lisa Llamrei says:

    I liked the ‘she rolled her eyes loudly’. I see that in my house. A lot. Shall I get Nora to comment on reading sound?

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