Thursday, September 2, 2010

Literary noises

Most people with normal hearing walk through their days unconsciously alert for sound everywhere, although they might not think about it unless the sound is rare, or out of place, or threatening.

Deaf people -- especially those, like me, who have been deaf for many decades -- don't generally think about sound at all, because it's foreign to our experience. Rather, we're visual folks, our sense of sight keenly attuned to our environment. Without thinking about it, we look for the unusual.

But the heightening of one sense doesn't necessarily make up for the lack of another.

As a deaf writer, I'm acutely aware that there is little or no sound in the first drafts of my novels. When I complete a manuscript, an early reader might say, "There's something missing. Can't quite put my finger on it . . . oh, yes, there's no birdsong or animal howls in the forest, no mutter of wavelets or crash of surf on the lake."

So one of my important tasks -- perhaps the most important -- is to go over an entire first draft and equip it with the missing furniture of environmental sound.

Often I can do that with my own imagination, but some of my early readers have a sensitive ear for this kind of thing and are happy to make useful suggestions. One told me about her long conversations with chickadees, which went right into Season's Revenge.

She also told me what she heard during a recent Upper Michigan encampment of historical re-enactors, an important event at the beginning of the new novel, Hang Fire.

"People bartering, kids laughing and playing, the ringing of steel on steel from the blacksmith tent, the thwack or thump of wood being split . . . "

To that I'll add booms from the shooting range, thwocks from the tomahawk gallery, the clanking of cast-iron cookpots on iron grates, the snap of flags and banners in the wind.

I have to be careful. To a hearing reader, too many literary sound effects amount to a distracting, annoying cacophony.

But it has to be done.

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