Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sound Effects in Writing -- Plus Some Nifty Steam Powered Motorcycles

How many sound effects do you include in your fiction writing? If you write comic books or graphic novels, probably loads. If literary novels, I'll wager not so much. Young adult and/or fantasy-- maybe some? How about steampunk? Which is kind of like historic This blog is for you.  :)

Sound effects can liven up a story. They are onomatopoeias- words that imitate the sound associated with them, like a hiss or a buzz. Here are some off the top of my head and ones I got from flipping through my graphic novel collection: ding-ding, Boom!, BLAM, Zap, blub-blub, BUDDA BUDDA BRAKKA BRAKKA (That last was machine gun fire.)

If you're serious about sounds effects, you may want to get KA-BOOM! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia by Kevin J. Taylor.

You must be clear with yourself what exactly you are describing. Let me explain. I committed an error recently in my work in progress, Twelve Keys. A character rides a steam powered motorcycle. I've read extensively about the history of these machines and studied pictures. I've ridden on the back of my husband's traditional modern motorcycle. Stupidly, I thought I was an expert. DOINK!

I pull up a YouTube video and watch a steamcycle in action and what do I hear? Not the Rumbly-Bumbly sound I described in my chapter, but more of tukkety-tukkety. I clicked on another vid of a different type of steam powered motorcycle and it was a chug-chug-chug-sss, almost like a mini train. Neither resembled my sound effect. (Yes, those are links to the videos embedded there. Take a gander.)

My point: do your homework. Go into the world (or at least YouTube) and listen. I'm sure, unlike me, you know the modern version of a thing doesn't sound like the old fashioned machine. Doh! (Darn that historic mumbo-jumbo.)Then, play around with the spelling of the sound effect. Read it, say it out loud, and ask somebody else to look at it and utter it. It's kind of eye-dialect* and the regular English spelling rules don't apply.

*Eye dialect, strictly speaking, is the representation of standard pronunciations by unconventional spellings, for instance- "sez" and "wuz." I'm using the term here because the sound effects do appeal to the eye as well as the ear.

1884 Copeland Steam Cycle (replica) The Art of the Motorcycle - Memphis
**Links for image sources embedded in image captions.


karabu said...

Excellent points, as usual. I don't have a lot of noise making things in my novel, but I should make sure and point out the few noises that appear. The lack of noise at one point comes up.

My favorite onomatopoeia that I've learned lately is gatcha-gatcha. In Japan, that's the name for those machines that you put a quarter into and get out a plastic ball with a toy inside. It's named for the sound of the machine when you turn the handle. I like having a name for those things.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Now all novels need or should have comicbookish sound effects, but I suppose mentioning sounds is good, especially if later there are no sounds.

Gatcha-gatcha, I love it! You remind me of a fun point- the fact that in different languages sounds are described differently. Can't remember which zoo it is (Oakland or S.F.) but they have a chart with animal sounds of different languages. Important to know if we're writing characters from different backgrounds.

Joylene Butler said...

I love sound effects. Remember the old Batman tv series? They actually spread the words across the screen. What a hoot. As a kid I was amazed they could actually do that. Wham!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

POW! Yeah, Joylene, I watched that series too. LOL

Tony said...

Nice post. i actually do like using sound effects in my writing. my first novel has a lot of music in it, and I found myself describing the particular sounds very often.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Hi Tony. That's super-duper. Music in fiction adds so much! The male protag. in my w.i.p. plays the ocarina.

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