Sound and Silence: Shaping the Mood

Someone shrieks. A parent scoops up a child and flees. Gazes swivel skyward as a sudden crashing sound shatters the brittle quiet. The thumps and thuds of hurrying feet sound a timpani beat on the stairs.

What is this? The aftermath of a horrible crime? Fear engendered by a natural disaster?

No. This is a three-year-old’s birthday party that I recently attended. Taken out of context, the sights and sounds above have a veneer of tension and horror. (Perhaps the notion of a three-year-old’s birthday party fills you with horror now.)

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When a bunch of small children congregate in one space, you might imagine you’re in a war zone when you catalogue the amount of spillage, breakage, and yell-age (not a real word, but appropriate) taking place. Somehow seven small children can seem like 30, especially when they’re sugared up.

Actually, the most eerie sound at the party was the sudden onslaught of quiet. All of the children were upstairs in one child’s bedroom being very quiet. The silence sent every parent rushing up the stairs to see what was going on.

Since I was in charge of games at this party, I was privy to the most sounds: shrieks, protests (“I didn’t get a turrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn”), and questions. (“Where’s my baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllll?”) I wondered what the neighbors thought of all of the sounds coming from this place.

Expectations factor into how sounds are received. Because we expect a bunch of kids ranging in age from 2 to 7 to be loud when they congregate, screams aren’t as ominous as they would seem coming from a crowd of adults at a non-sporting event. Therefore, our heart rates remain even when we hear them, unless we recognize the switch in a child’s tone (from excited to upset).

violin1The birthday party reminds me of something to which I need to pay more attention in my writing: sounds and their effect on a listener. Consider the way sounds shape our reaction to scenes in films and shows. We’ve all seen horror movies where high- or low-pitched instruments are the signal that something awful is going to happen. At the Moving Image Education website, I found a quote that encapsulates this experience:

Pitch can greatly affect audience response: a low rumbling sound might imply menace, while a high, sustained note might create tension.

If you’ve got time and don’t scare easily, you can watch one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history—the shower scene from Psycho (1960), one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films. (Seems a lot tamer than movies today.) Listen to the music and how it affects the mood of the scene.

If you watched the scene or remember it from the past, did you notice the quiet at the beginning? That aspect makes the murder all the more jarring.

In a book, an author has to work hard to help a reader correctly interpret the mood. For descriptions of sounds, we have to rely on figurative language and other well-chosen words to create a frame of reference for the reader, since he or she can only “hear” through his/her imagination. (For example: “I said, no!” Jessica’s “no” sliced the air like a knife.)

I usually look at the behind-the-scenes documentaries of shows like Clone Wars or movies like The Lord of the Rings to learn what sound engineers do to create sounds that add to our experience of the media. A great online resource for the use of sounds to convey mood is the article, “Change The Sound, Change The Mood,” at NHPR (New Hampshire Public Radio). Click here for that article. If you have time, check out the videos that show how the mood of well-known movie trailers drastically changed as the music used in them changed. (The revised Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory trailer made me laugh out loud. The boat ride is key.)

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The boat ride from Willy Wonka

How has a sound affected your mood lately? How do you use sound in your writing to heighten the mood? What book or poem have you read recently where the descriptions of sounds made the text even more vivid?

Birthday hats from trendymods.com. Violin from bibleconversation.wordpress.com. Willy Wonka boat ride gif from pandawhale.com.

Check This Out: Unmade

Once again, I welcome to the blog the awesome Amy Rose Capetta. If you were around last year, you might remember that Amy Rose came on the blog to talk about her debut science fiction novel Entangled. Well, she’s here today to talk about the sequel—Unmade. Get ready to rock!

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Amy Rose: 1. I used to be a bookseller, a baker, and a teenage indie filmmaker.
2. I have lived on the East Coast, West Coast, in the South and the Midwest. What does that leave? The Southwest? I don’t think I could do that. Even thinking about it makes my skin feel dry.
3. My favorites are: sunshine, good books, learning things, almost any food, road trips. I’ve driven across the country four times.
4. I have a little tree in my writing room. I’m looking at him right now. He’s getting a little droopy. I hope he makes it through this winter. I hope we all do.

El Space: I hope we do too. In this second book of Cade’s story, what did you learn about yourself as you wrote Unmade? Was there anything you did differently than when you wrote Entangled?
Amy Rose: I learned that I am willing to do anything to make a book work, including abandoning a full draft on deadline, and starting from scratch with only a few months to go. It was the most terrifying writing experience of my life, and I wouldn’t have been anywhere near brave enough to do it without VCFA. But once I saw what I really wanted the story to be, I knew there was no other way.

El Space: How did you determine how much back story to include?
Amy Rose: I am one of those “only include as much as you need for the story” types. In fact, and this might be blasphemous to mention, but for Entangled and Unmade I came up with a lot of back story as I wrote, as I found the need for it. Because with making up a whole universe of planets and people and problems—you could spend ten years of your life coming up with back story only to cut most of it out. At some point you just have to start writing. And I like the surprise of finding things out as I bomb through rough drafts.

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El Space: What inspired you as you wrote this second adventure?
Amy Rose: The opportunity to get deeper into the characters. I think for me that love comes from a long history of series reading in fantasy and science fiction, but also a newer love of long and satisfying character arcs on TV shows, ones with lots of reversals and drama that drive the characters to new places. It’s probably not a coincidence that some of my favorites in this category are “genre” shows like Battlestar Galactica. But my secret favorite in this regard is Angel, the Buffy spinoff. If you see where some of those characters start their arcs, and where they end up, it’s wild. But you live it with them, one episode at a time, which is so emotionally engaging. And it feels believable to me. People can change so much, and at the same time we can see who they are through all of it, what stays intact. I wanted to write those sorts of character arcs.

battlestar-galactica-003David Boreanaz as Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer S03E06 Band Candy 4

El Space: Do you have a playlist for this book? If so, what songs would you include? What characters, if any, inspired you to think of these songs? I’m especially intrigued with what song Rennik might have inspired. 🙂
Amy Rose: Okay, so I absolutely cheated and wrote most of Unmade to the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. But it was right there, and it was so perfect. The composer doesn’t just give us his idea of what futuristic space music sounds like; he takes little bits of instrumentation and melody from all of these different cultures, and weaves them together and then adds the big epic tense thing that makes it suit the story. The result is music that ties the character in space back to Earth and home and connection and culture and longing. Like I said: too perfect.

Playlist

As a fun thing, I had people make a playlist for Unmade for a giveaway, and tell me the one song they would bring to outer space. I got some really fun answers—everything from Deep Purple to David Bowie to Beethoven to Taylor Swift.

Rennik’s song would be something by the guitarist Kaki King, something intricate and instrumental. Also a bonus because a friend told me that Kaki King reminds her of Cade.

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El Space: What attracts you the most to science fiction?
Amy Rose: Creation. Adaptation. Looking at everything sideways or upside down or a thousand years in the future. It’s a great way to explore big questions, because it doesn’t tether you to this particular moment, this culture, this way of looking at things. It allows you to think a little bit bigger than that—which is beautiful and a bit addictive.

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El Space: I’m a long-standing advocate of duologies. What made you decide to tell Cade’s story as a duology rather than a trilogy?
Amy Rose: Haha. Well, that’s a long story. I did consider a trilogy, but in the end the two parts of the story really are bookends. I had enough material that I could have written three books, but that’s not really the question. The structure always made sense as two. There are two major things that change the trajectory of Cade’s life. There are two times that Xan changes everything. And most importantly, there are two endings. The small one that’s a waystation on the journey, and the big one that brings it to a close. I worship really good trilogies, but for that exact reason I don’t want to write one unless it’s the right shape for the story—unless that’s the only way to tell it.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Amy Rose: I am working on two very different things. One is a contemporary fantasy book, set in a theater. It has a central love story between two girls, which is something that won’t surprise readers of Unmade. I was always trying to get Lee and Ayumi more page time! The relationships were one of my favorite parts of these books, and I wanted something that put a love story at center stage, unabashedly. In reviews of YA genre books, we often hear a lot about “thank goodness there’s not too much romance in this!” which is funny to me, because I am ALWAYS looking for a good love story. Maybe not every reader is, but I think minimizing it is just a way that we distance ourselves from the idea of what girls like to read. I know I did that when I was a teenager. Well, now I am much too old to give any f***s. I love love stories. And I really wanted to tell an epic one.

The other story is contemporary, which is completely bizarre for me. I never thought I would write one. But it kept getting in my way, so I let myself write a draft. Then I put it away for a year because I couldn’t figure out how to revise it. But I have some ideas now. And I kind of love working on it. Like I said: bizarre.

Thanks, Amy Rose, for being my guest today!

Looking for Amy Rose? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Unmade can be found here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Great Lakes Book and Supply

One of you will win a copy of Unmade just by commenting. The winner will be announced on March 11.

Author photo by Cori McCarthy. Kaki King from elisarusso.com. Battlestar Galactica cast from thewallpapers.org. David Boreanaz as Angel from theangstreport.blogspot.com. Playlist image from femininoealem.com.br. Earth from whitegoldsilver.blogspot. Dr. Doofenshmirtz from phineasandferb.wikia.com.