Using our Senses in Writing – Hearing vs Listening
Posted by Lisa Lickel on August 22, 2012
“Are you listening to me?”
Can you “hear” the exasperation of the question? Or have you – no, how often have you – either heard or spoken these words?
Our next sense on the list is audition, or the ability to perceive sound. A vibration set off by a motion of some type passes through a natural medium such as air or water to flow across the incredibly complex design of the human ear. All creatures perceive these vibrations in unique ways and at different levels. And just like all of our senses, humans, as unique creatures, have the ability to pay attention to aspects of sensation, or the ability to tune them out.
The layers of auditory stimuli can be broken down into being able to hear and then interpreting that sound. The farther from the origin of the initial motion starting the sound wave, the type of medium, and the amount of multi-tasking the human brain is carrying out at the time—and of course, the human’s decision whether or not to act on the stimulus.
Thus, the concept of listening is the next layer of sensation; the response to what was heard. All of this leads up to wonderful opportunities for your characters’ actions and reactions; even for using the lack of hearing as a character within a character. The deaf community has a “loud” campaign that declares being hearing-less is not a deficit but another way of life and shouldn’t be “corrected” since there is nothing wrong. Now—what kind of character chooses “life” over “living”?
Choosing to ignore noises, whether or not considered “polite”; as overhearing, either deliberate or accidental, can lead to all kinds of misinterpretation and subsequent mis/adventure. Where do gossip and prejudice begin? A wisp of a phrase, a car backfiring, a gasp, a scrape across a matchbook, the click of a gun’s chamber, a shriek all have multiple interpretations demanding any number of reactions based on your character’s purpose or past emotional or physical association with the sound.
If I hear sharp cracks in succession from next door, what should I do? My reactions, in order: I make an assumption regarding the sound – gunfire. My fight or flight response kicks in, helping me decide if there’s danger to me. I decide to look in the direction of the sound. I see my neighbor holding a gun near her horses. I know that she is a history buff, and unless she’s had a psychotic break, would never harm her animals. I watch from a safe distance. I deduce that she is training her horses to adapt to the sound of gunfire. I later learn that this is so, as her horses are used in Civil War reenactments. But what if I had been a combat veteran? Or brand new to the neighborhood and yet to meet anyone? What if I had been a victim of a crime involving a shooting? How would I react if I were timid, angry, a weapons buff, or an animal lover?
Train yourself to listen, that is, to hear and interpret, the sounds around you in different scenarios. Park yourself in a safe place and turn off as many of your other senses as possible. Be still and let the sound waves wash over you. Pick out one or two noises to focus on and try not to jump to conclusions. Define the sound as loud or soft, short or long, high or low. Inventory your response to the noise: what’s your first reaction? How does it make you feel? What does the sound make you want to do? Do you know or only think you know the source of the vibration that became your sound?
Secondly, practice this exercise with another person and compare notes. Did you react the same or different and talk about why.
Seeing, touching, and now hearing, any activity creates both inner and outer responses based much upon experience. How you build that experience for your reader depends much upon your own ability to interpret your world. If you should “write what you know,” then learn all you can!
Clipart provided by Classroomclipart
The story continues:
A one layered version:
Selena left their dog at the house so she and Justin could take a quiet walk on the Circle Path before dinner.
A multi-layered, visual, tactile and auditory oriented:
Selena put the oven on low for the roast so they wouldn’t have to rush on the Circle – the path around town. The drip of the faucet reminded her she of the new washer still in the bag from the hardware store. Later—after the walk. She pulled the door closed behind her and turned the key. Selena stalled a bit as she looked at her husband. Justin stood in the driveway, still as the light post, while he waited for her. She sighed. His hands were firmly stuck in his pockets.
Cicadas whirred from across the yard. Chloe barked and scratched at the door. Justin cocked his head in the direction of his English setter’s begging. Next time, baby. This time is just for us.
“Clockwise or counter?” she asked. His smile reassured her as he reached for her hand. His rough palm caressed hers and his warm fingers held tight, like a lifeline. Selena moved close enough to feel his body heat.
“I’ll follow you,” he said.
Selena brushed her cheek against the cotton of his t-shirt where the rumble of his voice faded before leading him down the driveway. With one hand in hers he rarely tapped the cane in his other hand against the asphalt. Soon they’d be on the path, woodchips muffling their steps.
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