Last night it rained. Tap, tap, tap on my roof. I listened while I lay there, trying to sleep. I thought about sounds. The sound of the water, falling from such an amazing height, slapping on my roof…snap, snap snap! Or is it tic, tic, tic? Or click, click, click?
This morning I took the dog out in the rain. He didn’t want to go. I didn’t care because I had a hood on my jacket, and it was quiet outside, except for the sound the water made on the leaves in the trees, the leaves on the moss-covered ground, on the holly bushes. The rain slapped on my hood, on the garage roof, on the road.
And now, it is sunny and very windy.
What does rain sound like on a road, on a bush, on a roof, on a hood? What does it sound like thundering through oak trees in the Appalachian mountain range? The wind sounds like a train racing through the oaks in the mountains. The rain on the road sounds like hamburgers sizzling on the grill. The rain on my hood sounds like tiny metal ball bearings dropping on waxed paper pulled taut. The wind sounds like waves crashing on a sandy shore.
It is good for a writer to listen to wind, to rain; to the tap of shoes on pavement, on stone, over a slate walkway. It is good for a writer to close his eyes and listen to the sound of snoring, to the cry of a squirrel, the movement of mice under the leaves. And instead of writing that “the mice rustled under the leaves,” to write something completely unexpected. Making the familiar sound of mice scurrying through underbrush (a sound which barely requires description), turn into a familiar sound that is also new and freshly described…freshly painted.
Listen. Do you hear them? Those laughing women, chit-chatting out on the porch. Some people have said that laughing women who sit about chit-chatting really sound like hens clucking? Is that true? Or do they sound like something else? Does their laughter sound like silver bells chiming? I’ve known women whose laughter sounded like the tinkling of bells. Do the low murmurs of the men around that fire over there really sound like bullfrogs humming? No, I know bullfrogs don’t hum. That’s the point.
How we writers describe things doesn’t have to match the way those things have been described before. In his novel The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak describes the day the Jews were marched down a street by soldiers before all the citizens of the town. The children played a game on a neighboring street and heard the sounds of shuffling feet “and regimented voices.” One boy asked, “Is that a herd of cows? It can’t be. It never sounds quite like that.” Then, “In a tall apartment just around the corner, an old lady with a foreboding voice deciphered for everyone the exact source of the commotion. Up high, in the window, her face appeared like a white flag with moist eyes and an open mouth. Her voice was like suicide…”
Suicide? Yes. In that circumstance, yes.
What does the sound you’re describing really sound like?
by Jean Foster Akin