The Keyboard Clicks at Midnight – Sound in Writing and Life

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On my way to work today, I defied the cooler temperatures and wore sandals. Thwack, thwack, twacking down the street didn’t bother me, but as soon as I stepped into the office, I was self-conscious and switched into a pair of heels I keep at my desk.

I am surrounded by noise: the city tests warning sirens on the first Tuesday of the month, the commuter train passes by my house once an hour. Noise is so constant, that I don’t notice it. It’s the backdrop.

But my shoes were so out-of-place that they jumped out at me. My sandals’ thwacking belonged on the beach. Once I slipped on my heels, I didn’t hear anything even though I know good and well that they click on the tile.

So, I took five minutes and listened to my office. And when I came home, I took five more minutes to listen.

I can identify everything I heard. There were no surprises. It was the amount that I filter out each day that was intriguing.

Describing the clicking keyboard, the swishing pant legs, the whirring printer, the beeping broken copier, the clanging file drawers, the ringing telephone, the clicking of office doors closing, the creaking of the building, the buzzing of the lights would all be too much to read about in a story. It would be deafening. When I read about an office, those are the sounds that pop into my head because that’s what I’ve experienced. The sounds are similar in all the offices I’ve worked.

When I was in school and imagined what an office sounded like, I probably imagined the school library: some keyboards clicking, some papers rustling, but mostly silence.

Does that matter? In the grand scheme of most stories, I don’t think so. I don’t describe sound very much in my writing. People talk, something falls with a bang, but there is no sound backdrop – only the noise that’s out of the ordinary.

Every once in a while, like when I take five minutes and really listen to what goes on around me, I do wonder if I’m giving sound the short end of my literary stick.

How do you deal with sound in your writing? Is it the stand out sounds that get the ink? Or the everyday sounds that help paint your location?

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8 thoughts on “The Keyboard Clicks at Midnight – Sound in Writing and Life

  1. Dana Sitar

    Wow! It’s been a long time since someone brought up something I really never, EVER thought about in my writing. You make a really good point. Maybe the background sounds aren’t mentioned because it is typical for the reader to create them in their mind? Or, maybe, they actually aren’t important to the story or the setting?

    Or, maybe it’s something that is just usually neglected out of habit. Regardless, incorporating background sounds into the setting of a scene — creating a deafening image with words — is a writing exercise I am definitely going to try out. Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. bethfinke

    And now, from a sound expert: one might expect that a writer like me would incorporate sound into my writing all the time, but I don’t. I *do* squeeze it in from time to time — “she put on her headphones to mask the roar of the garbage truck outside her window” to let the reader know the character lives on a busy city street. That is an amateur example but in fact I just did exactly that –it’s noisy around here, and I had to put my headphones on to hear your blog post.

  3. Wow, I love how you’re able to bring scenes to life so vividly! Definitely something I need to learn. Right now I’m still grappling with big issue stuff, like plot structure and such. I’ll have to remember to work these details in when I start drafting!

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