Last week, I invited you to write up descriptions of sounds inside soundproofed rooms. And then, Murphy's law being what it is, we had a massive tech issue with the blog and people couldn't post their comments. I gave it a few days for the dust to settle, but I think the comments are still a bit unreliable. Nothing I can do about it, though I'm thinking Alicia and I might need to have a powwow about switching to a different blogging platform. Google is terrific for so many things, but if the comments don't work, that's a big, big problem.
Anyway. Let's take a look at the examples from those of you who were able to get something through. This first one is from Joel Q Aaron.
The first floor window gave him a clear shot at the parking lot as soundless cars drove by. He spoke clearly and annunciated without thought. His voice didn’t echo in the small room, but reverberated across the region to car stereos and office radios. He nodded at the producer and special guest mouthing at each other in the hall. With a wave of his hand, they came though the thick door and into the studio as if a paused CD began to play in mid chorus. Office chatter followed. The ding of a microwave. Then the silent movie returned as the door closed.
This is very interesting. We've got a discussion of sound in the beginning, but we don't have any actual sounds. Notice that? He speaks, but we don't know the words he uses. He annunciates -- great verb choice to highlight this contrast between making noise and hearing nothing. "annunciated without thought" -- nice. It isn't until the door opens that we have more concrete representations of sound -- the CD playing mid chorus, the chatter, the ding of a microwave (probably the strongest and most direct representation of sound in the entire example).
This sentence troubles me a little bit:
With a wave of his hand, they came though the thick door and into the studio as if a paused CD began to play in mid chorus.
With is probably not the right preposition to use there. And I think the chained phrases are meant to indicated the time at which something happens, rather than the nature. In that case, it ought to be an adverb clause rather than a pair of prepositional phrases. (Adverbs can describe time more effectively than prepositional phrases can. 'Tis their nature.) Like so:
After he waved his hand, they came though the thick door and into the studio as if a paused CD began to play in mid chorus.
And then the use of "as if" bugs my eyes a bit. What follows "as if" doesn't describe the manner of their coming. It describes the result of the door being opened. These little words, these prepositions and adverbs and conjunctions and so forth, are more than just glue to hold together the bigger words. They signal relationships between the parts, too, and here I think we need a different relationship signal. What "they" do and the resulting sound effects have a different relationship than what is currently written. Maybe something like,
After he waved his hand, they opened the thick studio door to the external sounds as if a paused CD began to play in mid chorus.
After he waved his hand, they came though the thick door and into the studio along with a noise like a paused CD beginning to play in mid chorus.
We're still not quite there with either of these options, but the relationship between the pieces is a little more clear, which is my point.
Also, I might reverse the order of that final sentence so that we end with that really nice image:
Then as the door closed, the silent movie returned.
Because I think the silent movie concept is more powerful than the image of the door closing. The last spot in a paragraph is a power spot. Use something good there, something evocative or resonant, and your paragraph will automatically read better. We've already got that nice detail, that silent movie, so it's easy enough to rearrange the parts to emphasize it.
Jami, whose original setting example led us down this delightful side road, showed us in the comments how she revised that bit to highlight the quality of the sound:
The odor of sour sweat and smoke clogged the air in the sparse room. She made herself at home, shoving the three utilitarian steel chairs and industrial table toward the back wall so she could approach the mirror unimpeded. The deadened screech of the furniture rearrangement gave evidence of the room’s soundproofing.
"deadened screech" is evocative and interesting, and I have a feeling that in context, it might even have some symbolic resonance. And I know just what that deadened screech sounds like. Don't you agree? That's a good use of language, concise and precise. I'm a little less enthusiastic about "the furniture rearrangement" because that's a little flat and vague. Something more specific might be better. Maybe something like,
The deadened screech of metal legs against concrete gave evidence of the room's soundproofing.
Though, maybe not -- we already have steel in an earlier sentence, and that's more precise than metal, so this has an also-ran flavor in that adjective. So maybe move the adjective, and the article, like so:
She made herself at home, shoving three utilitarian chairs and the industrial table toward the back wall so she could approach the mirror unimpeded. The deadened screech of steel legs against concrete gave evidence of the room’s soundproofing.
There we go. That's better. I would probably cut the adjective sparse from the first sentence, too, just to shift the balance of plain nouns and adjective-noun combos. When too many nouns are paired with adjectives, the prose begins to feel a bit overweighted. I don't think we're at that point here, but I do think cutting "sparse" pulls us back from the territory where we even have to consider it. And now the final paragraph reads thus:
The odor of sour sweat and smoke clogged the air in the room. She made herself at home, shoving three utilitarian chairs and the industrial table toward the back wall so she could approach the mirror unimpeded. The deadened screech of steel legs against concrete gave evidence of the room’s soundproofing.
Sometimes little changes can make a big difference, and to my eyes, this is one of those times. It was a strong paragraph to begin with, and I think the rhythm in the prose is intact, but it's a little tighter and smoother now.
Now Thomas Sharkey shares some observations from a recent hearing test:
A soft sound of silence surrounded me, numbing my senses.
The walls were covered in foam blocks shaped something like the inside of an egg box.
When the assistant spoke the room felt even smaller. Her voice was a flat sound and it had a sort of finality about it.
Thomas, I know just the egg crate foam padding you're describing. I worked at a radio station in college, and the sound studio's walls were lined in that stuff. I don't know what it's called, but I do know it sucked the echoes right out of the air. Finality -- that's a good way to describe the quality of that sound effect. And it's hard to describe the way things sound in that kind of environment. It's almost like being in a house when the power goes out. The slight hum of the electric appliances is gone, and everything is just a little too still and quiet. You almost hear your own voice differently. It's not that your voice changes, but everything around it does.