On writing

Describing modern sounds in a non-technological society

In my latest story my character has a noise inside his head. It’s continual, and he doesn’t know what it is.

I know exactly what it sounds like. It’s the noise that you get when you sit next to someone who has their iPod up too loud and you are swamped with a white noise that’s half static, half beat, beat, beat.

I can describe it well enough using today’s terms, but my character lives in a pre-technological society. He’s never heard of static. He’s never heard of iPods. I have to describe it in natural terms.

I’d been stumped for days, but then I started writing this post and suddenly, for no reason at all, natural analogies just popped up.

For the underlying noise I might start with the sound of a seashell when you hold it up to your ear, or the wind whistling around the shutters on a stormy night. Or even the sea itself.

For the static, add the crackling of resinous logs on the fire.

And the beat? It’s a rhythm like the drums of the distant watchers, or the seasoned pounding of the butcher chopping up meat on his slab.

I’m sure I can come up with more.

The thing is, once I stopped trying to describe it and let it percolate in the background, my subconscious came up with a whole stack of ideas.

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