Story Bite #22: Finding Your Beginning Through Sound

One of the most common questions I’ve heard from students about writing is how to find ideas to start a piece. They’re often told to start with action in the middle of a scene. But sometimes they can’t think of an action or a scene, and the ideas just won’t come.

A scene is a snapshot of a moment in your character’s life in which your character is feeling and thinking about something. This series of posts—Finding Your Beginning—will share tips on how to jump-start a scene through the senses: things that evoke emotions. In the first, let’s look at—or, rather, listen to—sound.

We all respond emotionally to sensations around us, and sound is one of the biggest.

Think of how you would respond to the following:

  • A clap of thunder
  • The beat of a bass drum
  • The tinkling of sleet on glass
  • A hawk’s shrill cry

Do you have an emotional reaction to any of those sounds? Create your own list of sounds that startle you, delight you, interest you, or frighten you. If you can’t think of any off the top of your head, here are a few more:

  • The crackling of fireworks
  • The crackling of fire
  • The creak of a floorboard
  • A creak of a tree in the woods

What do sounds mean in a story? Think about what might be happening around them. Is something creepy about to occur? Or something wonderful? A sound like the crackling of fire can inspire a feeling of relief (someone who manages to finally, finally start a campfire for supper) or comfort (a crackling fire in a fireplace)—or it can inspire terror and despair (a forest fire).

Starting with a sound that evokes an emotion will give you a beginning, then something to write about: the situation your character is in.

For this Story Bite, think of a sound (or pick one from one of my lists above). Go online and find an example of that sound. Notice of your reaction. Do you flinch? Do you smile? Write down a description of that sound. Make it simple (The fire crackled.) or link it with your character (A clap of thunder filled her ears.) and then write what comes next: how your character reacted. For example:

The fire crackled. I pulled my legs up and smiled. At last, I was warm.

or

A clap of thunder filled her ears. Shivering, she hugged herself. Would it ever stop?

Think of what comes next after your character’s initial reaction. Where are they? What are they doing? Write that down. Who is with them, or are they alone? Add that. What do they do in reaction to that sound? What happens after that? Write that as well.

Sound is a great way to start a scene. It puts your reader directly into your character’s mind. But it also puts your mind right into your story.

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