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Homework to Be Happy About

Happy April, everyone! Does it feel like spring yet, wherever you are? We’ve got crocuses and daffodils blooming in the front garden, and all sorts of plants springing up all over the place. The strawberries are coming back (yay!) and so far most of my krackens (aka, goji bushes) are showing signs of life. Maybe, hopefully, eventually I will get berries off these beasts.

Due to current circumstances, my local writers group was cancelled for this month, and likely the next several, so I thought I’d be brave and share with all of you my homework assignment from the last month. It was an interesting session, focusing on sounds and the different types there are in writing and how to use them. Turns out I’ve done several of these techniques in the past, without even knowing they were an actual thing!

Go figure.

For an exercise we listened to a soundscape and had to write a scene describing and fleshing out what we were hearing. That was hard, especially since there was a time limit, and I don’t write fast. Or think fast. Or anything fast, really. I wound up with what amounts to a list of the sounds I was hearing in no particularly interesting order. Thankfully, that’s not what I’ll be sharing, because man, it is BAD.

Our homework was a prompt (so we know we’re treading dangerous ground here). It had to 1) feature an abandoned building in the woods, 2) be spooky-ish in theme, at least to start, 3) focus heavily on the soundscape of the scene, and 4) use at least three onomatopoeia (which are words that are sounds, such as ‘ribbit’, ‘creak’, and ‘whisper’).

Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Right?

I’ll be honest. It started out okay, but I do believe I strayed a bit toward the end, there. Let’s take a look:

The tall grass rustled like paper as he walked closer, whispering of werewolves and will-o’-the-wisps.

“Superstitious claptrap,” he muttered.

Overhead, the wind soughed through the trees, and they creaked and groaned in time with the squeaks and moans of the derelict house. They were small mumbles in the hollow air outside, faded and broken echoes of a mourning hymn no one remembered.

He stopped at the foot of the front steps. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.” His boots thumped quietly up to the porch. The shattered windows stared back at him forlornly, and the door squealed in protest when he pushed it open, unwilling to reveal the secrets its rusted hinges and latch kept closed inside.

He paused on the threshold, taking in the skittering of mice in the walls and the slow, steady clapping of wood coming from further in. These were loud in the backdrop of silence that crept in the shadowed corners, and muffled the memories written in the peeling wallpaper. His ears strained to hear the laughter, but it had slipped away; the contented humming, but it had hushed.

“A home can’t be haunted until everyone who lived in it is dead,” he said.

Stomping into the house, and tripping when one of the floorboards sank and snapped underfoot, he found the fireplace and the etching that time had not yet taken: SKEER WAS HERE

Crouching down, he took out his knife. The house went still around him, as if to soak up the scratching of steel against stone as he scraped out one word and carved in two more.

His laughter rolled full and deep when he looked over his work. “And I will be for some time.”


This is a (largely) unedited piece, with little plot and inconsistencies, but I’m curious to know how you think I did with the criteria of the prompt. How did this clip sound to you? I’ll even venture to ask how you’d grade it, since it is homework, after all.

Do you pay much attention to the sounds in the books you read? Do you hear them, when stones plunk into the pond and feet make hollow thumps as they walk across a mooring plank? The concept of using audio in something you engage in with your eyes is interesting and unexpected, and yet, we use all of our senses when we read. We have words for all sorts of sensations and feelings, to better help us describe a thing to another. We as readers can understand what squelchy mud feels like, and the aggravating whine of a mosquito, and the stench of algae and dead fish, so when a writer brings their character through a swamp, you can associate these words with sensations, and your imagination combines them into an experience that moves you.

Stories are fun to read, but they’re better when you can hear and smell and feel and taste and see them, too. We are not one-dimensional creatures, after, all, so it stands to reason that neither should our stories be.

Published inOn WritingRandom Stuff

2 Comments

  1. You did a nice job creating ambiance with all the noise words. Good prose is all about exploring the five senses—particularly sounds.

    • Thank you! It is fascinating how we use all the senses in writing to really build an experience. I’ve never thought much about it, though, until that class.

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