Author Stephen King advises writers to “Make a photograph, if you can, for the reader.” Very good advice…but do those photographs speak?
Last week, my husband and I saw The Revenant – a brutal and riveting movie that not only gave the viewer a vivid picture of life in a cold wilderness, but offered an opportunity for the audience to hear both the solitude and the chaotic eruptions of a vast and near-empty landscape.
Trees groaned and crackled in the wind, their leaves whispering. Rivers churned and gurgled and roared along their freezing courses. Birds cawed and cooed and whistled in fog-filled dawns. Hunters splashed through marshlands. Buffalo thundered. Humans sighed and cried and moaned. A movie of limited (and often mumbled) dialogue, The Revenant was a feast for the ears.
Beginning with the opening salvo, we spectators are treated to the special silence of the wild. A rippling creek offers the only sound in a solitary wooded tract. Soon, although we see nothing but trees and water, the creek’s burble is punctuated with the splash of footsteps – someone is following. Finally, trackers enter into view from behind the camera. Absent is any distant hum of traffic, the intrusive voices of television, radio, personal electronics, or conversations – so pervasive in our lives that we hardly notice. Until they are quieted. The sounds of silence.
King, of all people, knows (and conveys) the significance of a creaking house, or the nearby snap of a twig, or the raspy pant of a frustrated runner. So too his readers.
We, as authors, must let our readers hear the noise as we do. Describe a silence punctuated by telltale footfalls, or the cacophony of vehicles, or the bustle of industry. Tender the sounds our characters hear as part of their lives.
Our attempts are mere simulations, it’s true, but…we must try.
For another form of simulated sound, check out the first several minutes of the “rain” in this video from the UK. Breathtaking.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.com