Writer Research: The Inside Story

There’s something scrumptious about being a writer. We get to eat cake in a café and call it RESEARCH-what’s not to like? (Well, apart from the pay.) In this case, my ‘research’ (read happy event) had something to do with soundscapes.

Writer research is often a prolonged agony of sifting through screeds of material online, or ploughing through hefty tomes. But it needn’t only be that.

You know we hit that age (it could be post thirty), and your friend says, I’ve got these tickets to something, it starts at 8pm. 8pm? You’re thinking; I’m prone on the sofa, should I eat the last biscuit or chocolate, or watch a last episode of a show, or read a book? Sometimes you even think: I’m a writer I should be doing research. You remain, unmoving, comfortable and at home. But it’s your good friend and you love that woman. You’d go with her to watch ice melt kind-of-friend. She’s waiting. You ping her back a text.

Love to. And it begins, you have to slap on an outfit, fix up a face, do something with the wild sticky-outy hair. Fine.You look it up.

Oh, (you scan, you’re lazy, you don’t precisely read the reviews or details, just the outline), okay. Sounds, umm, well art is definitely involved. Interesting is broad and probably inadequate but sure, that covers it. Anyway it’s not like your writing has been that brilliant that you couldn’t afford a night out. Get over yourself. You keep up this conversation IN YOUR HEAD because you’re a writer, or crazy, or both.

A Mysterious Voice

Then a clinical female voice bursts out from the the sound system, like in one of those dystopian movies, saying, please go to the bathroom because we’re locking the doors for almost two hours and you can’t leave the room for any reason. At all. You look at each other. Seriously? High art is what you’re thinking. Maybe off-the-Richter-scale kind of art and possibly a little woowoo. Too late, you’re committed, you both pucker your eyebrows and decide, yep let’s go now before we’re locked in. Your writer research antennae begin to sprout.

Locked In or Out

The line is filled with a crowd of high school drama students snickering and jostling but also excited by what might lie ahead. Will we make it back in? Will they lock us out? The line takes on a sense of urgency. Because they said that you couldn’t go for two hours, suddenly everyone feels they better go NOW! The queue would have been shorter if they’d offered free chardonnay, chocolate and a hug with my favourite Australian actor-male- living in New York. You have to guess. Okay that’s my fantasy.

Is this for real?

Phones are checked every millisecond as the countdown to lockdown begins and little lines appear on faces and the constant clanging of the ten-minutes-till-the-door-closes beeper is taking its toll. I am definitely feeling more and more like I’m in one of those futuristic novels in which everyone is about to be allocated a room where they have to don dungarees coloured yellow or orange or red depending on whether you’re an alpha or a beta or a worker bee. I’m over thinking this. Everyone is jittery. We discuss whether to pull out but then the line pitches forward and before long we’re toe-tapping our shoes on glossy tiles. We nearly high five each other because we made it with minutes to spare.

Writer Research Antennae

By the door we hand over our tickets. We have to wear headphones, my friend whispers. Headphones? The intrigue mounts and the sense that it’s a little out there begins to dawn on everyone. What if it’s too weird, too dramatic? You know what I’m talking about; that squeamish uncomfortable this-is-too-weird-even-for-me and I love strange, unusual, show-me-your-stuff kind of art. People shuffle in and murmur in subdued voices; a bit of quiet nervous tittering punctuates the otherwise restrained crowd. Mine I think.

Then a voice filters through the headphones telling us to listen because this voice should be heard by our left ear- that voice came out of my right ear so I had to switch around the headphones till the right sound came out of the right ear – you know what I mean. The writer research antennae are so long they’re in danger of whipping off the headphones of the man in front. Oh yes, this is real material.

A Festival Event

I’m not going to spoil the event for you, which was called ‘The Encounter’. I do recommend that if you get a chance, buy a ticket and create your own imaginative panorama, to add to your own reservoir of writer research.

The experience caused me to reflect on how I incorporate sound in the landscape of my work. It made me want to play around with sound and use it more boldly to enrich my fictional world.

Sound Writing

All writing advice suggests new writers practice shutting down different senses in order to focus on just one of them. It encourages a deeper awareness of the sense and improves the use of all senses in your writing. Even though this was largely a sound event, other senses were provoked and challenged.

Down to those Tips

Here are a few tips I gleaned about sound for my writer research, (even though I already knew a lot of these, it helped me to re-focus on specific elements):

  • The air from a whisper or when someone blows into it can warm and redden your ear and make you giggle.
  • Sound doesn’t always enter in one ear or in stereo.
  • You can hear voices behind, to the side, at the back of the room, as they fade or combine with others or with other competing sounds, becoming indistinct.
  • You can hear voices in your head when you’re listening to someone, and after. (Not talking about those voices, see someone if they persist!)
  • Insects have an exact note of annoyance as they twist and fly in their pattern of flight, and how that sounds and feels when there are a multitude of them assaulting you at once.
  • The sound of swallowing, drinking, the steady pattern of sleep, of breathing through the nose. Human noises.
  • Water: in rivers, in bottles, deluging out of the sky, pattering, dripping single fat drops plunking, swirling, waterfalling- there is no end to the sound range of water and the backdrop it creates in many environments, both natural and man-made.
  • The bursts of fire beginning, flaming, engulfing, raging or small- just to think about all of it.
  • Voices- males, females, humming, singing, grunting, deep base notes, higher pitches, variety within each of us every day, –infinite variations.
  • Animal noises, how they sound and feel depending on the purpose of the prose.
  • Small melodic light voice of children, round, full and warm, when they’re happy and chatty.
  • The all encompassing vibration and thud and heaviness of an aeroplane overhead, and the singing roar as it sweeps further off.
  • Competing sounds, be they other voices, radios, construction going on, singing of trains on the line as they pass into your hearing range and out again, and other sounds in a home, on the street and in different environments- minor and major.
  • Technology and sound is quite frankly mind blowing.

A bit at The End

I’m excited to continue my writer research. I plan on taking a pilgrimage outside, like a certain hobbit, because you never know what lies outside your front door. I could end up in New York with you know who of Les Miserables fame. That’s a sledgehammer hint.


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