Writing Tip — Evoking Sound, Part 1

headphones-1301527_1280Every writer knows that to draw a reader into her literary world she needs to describe it in terms of the fives senses. But knowing and doing are two different things.  I know I rely too heavily on sight and need to work on using the other four.  Almost an Author is running a series of posts on writing with senses.  This one on sound provides an interesting exercise to get you to notice sound more.

Reviewing my novel, I found a few areas where I do use sound.  One is in how characters sound when they talk. Below are a few examples.

Describing a three-year-old boy: “Because he … talked so well, True gave you the weird impression he was a miniature adult.”

A sixteen-year-old boy is chronically nervous.  So he talks fast.  Throughout my story, I mention “Gabe answered at full speed”, and “The longer he talked, the faster he got”. He also has a habit of drumming his hands on any handy surface when he’s really nervous.

A petty crook has “a voice as deep and rocky as an abandoned mine”.  Later he speaks in his “basement voice.”

group-1825509_1280One thing I can’t do is use dialogue tags to describe the voice, like “roared”, “squeaked”, or “hissed.”  And it’s definitely out to use adverbs, such as “she said sternly” or “he said weakly.”  I can use “whisper” or “shout” or “yell”, sparingly, to indicated volume, but since minimizing dialogue tags is the style now, it’s better to convey the sound of the voice through either the dialogue itself or actions that accompany it.

I have a character who runs a notoriously wild bar and may be engaged in illegal activities there.  So he doesn’t like the police. When the sheriff shows up at his bar to investigate a possible crime, he says, “‘Get lost, Acker.’ Mr. Ferrick flung an arm at the patrol car.”

Since I have already established Ferrick doesn’t like the police, his action conveys how he sounds when he speaks to them.

For more on dialogue tags, read my previous post on them.

Another area I can use to evoke sound is nature.  My book is set in the mountains of eastern West Virginia, so I have a great opportunity to make a scene come alive with sound.

I’ll discuss that next time.

Writing Tip

group-1825513_1280Strong Verbs Not Allowed

From the writers in my writing group, I’ve learned that dialogue tags are out of style.  You should only use “said” with maybe “asked” and “whispered” sprinkled in.  And only use “said” when there is no better way to indicate who is talking.

The style now is using action statements to show who is speaking.

Don’t write:  “Don’t do it,” I warned.

“You can’t stop me,” sneered the Evil Villian.

“Help me,” screamed the Hysterical Victim.

“I’ll do whatever I can,” I vowed.

Do write:. “Don’t do it!”  I charged up the stairs.

“You can’t stop me.”  The Evil Villian grabbed an automatic.

“Help me!”  The Hysterical Victim strained against the handcuffs.

“I’ll do whatever I can.”  I dived for the gun.

I see how they second version provides more information to the reader to help him create a more vivid mental picture.  I also understand how tags can be overdone with characters replying, yelling, crying, adding, interrupting, gasping, and so on.

You can also convey the delivery of the dialogue with the words used within the dialogue.

Instead of:  “That’s terrible,” he growled.

Write:  “That’s the worse news I’ve had all year.”

The second line delivers more meaning, it’s more precise, more colorful.

But …

Personally, I don’t mind reading tags, if, as I said above, it’s not overdone.  I like to know how the dialogue sounds.  The action tags give me clues sometimes, but I think a verb describing the sound of the voice in the dialogue tag give just  as much information.

I don’t know when the minimizing of dialogue tags began.  I find a lot of them in older books, from 50 years ago or longer.  Perhaps it has something do with TV shows and movies.  People are so used to storytelling being visual that authors try to copy that action as best they can in print.

Authors of current children’s books still use a variety of verbs for dialogue tags.  The technique makes the story easier to follow.

So what’s your opinion?  Should no one ever growl or yell or sob?  Or can these be used sparingly?

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