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16:16 Noise and Sound

Batman delivering a justicesandwich


So, here’s a thing…

Sound effects and environmental noise in fiction. Growing up watching MTV cartoons and reruns of series like the above, I’m a sucker for a well-placed sound effect. Thud, Thunk, Thwap (lots of Th-s’). I know that it’s generally regarded as a sign of juvenilia, but it’s fun.

It also breaks up the-


Ouch, sorry about that-narrative. This is a good and a bad thing. In military fiction you can try to emulate Jason Bourne-style action scenes. To my shame I haven’t read any wuxia novels, and I wonder if sound effects scatter them like grammatical landmines.

Sound effects lend themselves to pulpy works – but shouldn’t be restricted to them, right? Noise, static, crescendos or murmurs are a part of the arsenal of any creative writer – just as much as character development and emotional tells are.

“What appears to be the problem?” says the clinical psychologist.

“One day I heard a voice say Thud, and that was about it….”

The Rosenhan Experiment.

Grammar is something to be played with. Comix in particular has its whole history dedicated to exploring onomatopoeia.

Buy what about when it comes to environmental noises? Avalanches, gun-shots, or smartphones? The northern hemisphere is filled with the sound of blips, beeps, trrings, tinkles, vurr-vurrs (that’s a vibrating something, obvs). I guess we have to ask whether the sounds are important, and what counts as important to any scene – longform, visual, or short. But it’s still fun to play with those questions.

More food for thought – Silent/Wordless Graphic Novels.

Onto a small pet peeve of mine, which would be the depiction of automated voices. It’s a personal frustration because it entirely relates to the many, many different ways I have tried to depict it in the past, and how I am constantly searching for a good, uh, ‘audio-narrative’??

alien-cyborg, by zerojs

“I can’t do that Dave,” says Hal, declaring itself to be a character with speechifying agency.

‘I can’t do that Dave’ Professor David Bowman hears, removing agency, turning Hal into an implacable environmental force.

Some times and in some novels I err on using italics for all automated noise…a kind of nudge and a wink to the reader that everything in that style sounds different. Like interjecting a different typeface for a newspaper or academic report in the middle of a scene. One of the mysterious, telepathic things about writing is that it’s not just a lexical art, right? Take a look at some modern poetry. It can almost be a graphical art sometimes. At other times I give agency to everything that, uh, speaks. Which raises the important question of cultural/outsider depiction…what about mute characters (whether human or not)? What about non-human-intelligible characters (animals, supernaturals, more-than-human)?

Anyway. *yawn* Thud.




Warren Ellis is like a Writer’s Henry Rollins…

…only probably with more swearing and more caffeine.

The comics, tv, novel, and essay writer Warren Ellis makes a regular appearance in these blog pages, I guess. Along with China Mieville, Robert Macfarlane, Laurie Penny, Rebecca Solnit, Catherynne M. Valente and others, he’s one of a sort of constant circle of ‘omigod, how did they do that’ writers that I think with. It’s good to find other people playing in the same sandpit as you are – and it’s good, I think, to have living people you can admire. Shows that it can be done, scrobbling this creative life together out of wordscraps and notebooks and long-distance, glitchy Skype calls.

In particular, I’m thinking about his recent experiments with status updates – a daily ‘I AINT’NT DEAD YET!’ which could be pictures or updates or what have you. Short, tiny snapshots of a daily instance. If I were to get my act together to do something similar, these are the reasons wherefore:

  • It’s minimal. Almost like a fake ghost-life. Not the full build out of a virtual life that you have in say, Facebook, but a shadow of the real that recognizes that it is a shadow, if that makes any sense to anyone but me.
  • It’s like a tiny message in the bottle, every day.
  • It’ll keep my singular, regular, and darling Googlecrawlerbot happy.
  • I’d get to be arty. I always used to like the more personal status-y things you got in social media – far more so than the actual writing of the damn diary entries. Y’know the sort of thing: song-of-the-day, current-mood, currently-reading, status, etcetera. Ghosty throwaway stuff maybe, but makes the net seem a little less lonely.
  • Brain attention capacity at 10% only.

So, while I think about it for a bit – here’s a snapshot of the sort of things I could say:

A Writer’s Parable

Occasionally, in my most purple of moments I wonder if there is some imaginal realm out there for all the ill-formed and forgotten books that time has forgotten. A corner of the unreal where these dreams still have some existence, even if their plots are dangling out of their seams and they use far too many expressive’s.

I imagine some infinitely patient caretaker, still tending these half-formed things like the scraggy and ancient Lavender that I keep alive in my garden. It might be kinder to uproot it, but a part of me hopes that it might yet produce flowerstalks.


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