How to feel what your characters feel
by Susan Woerner
Editor’s note: This article is not an advertisement, nor does the author have any affiliation with the website she’s writing about. She just finds it useful and thinks you might benefit from it, too!
One of the great challenges in writing about a setting you’ve never been in is imagining the experience with all five physical senses. In my novel, Aradia’s Diaspora, Betty, the protagonist, and her crew are caught in a storm at sea. They are in a wooden sailing vessel that I modeled on an 1800s-masted sailing ship. My only experience at sea is being on a cruise ship that ran into some large waves for a couple of hours—not hurricane-force winds on an open-deck wooden ship. How was I to get the true feeling of terror my intrepid travelers experienced?
While I couldn’t reproduce Betty’s experience exactly, I could simulate it a little bit. No, I didn’t splash my face with salt water (although that might be a good idea!)
In my novel, Betty and her crew are caught in hurricane-force winds on an open-deck wooden ship. How am I to get the true feeling of terror my intrepid travelers experienced?
Instead, I used myNoise.net, a website that provides soundscapes to give me an audio sense of what wind and water do to a wooden boat, and to hear what my characters might hear. These soundscapes instantly transport your characters—and you along with them—to just about anywhere you’d want to go: the rocky coast of Ireland, an old, creepy mansion, or a peaceful Japanese garden.
The website catalogs just about any type of audible experience you can imagine. In addition to natural sounds like waterfalls, ocean, and rain, you’ll hear the sounds of animals such as frogs, goats, and wolves, as well as the noises of a prop airplane, laundromat, and fish tank, to name a few. For a taste of the heebie jeebies, the site offers a number of soundscapes often used in role-playing games, with names like “Dark Forest,” “Evil Charm,” and “Ominous.”
I use various soundscapes to block out background noise, so I can concentrate on that one idea that I absolutely must get out of my head.
You’ll find various types of chanting, such as Gregorian, Tibetan, and Yakutian, as well as beautiful vocals and alluring voices singing without words. “Mermaids Calling” is one of my favorites in this category.
MyNoise also helps with noise masking. Since I often end up writing while someone is watching television in another room, I use various soundscapes to block out background noise, so I can concentrate on that one idea that I absolutely must get out of my head. These soundscapes are best heard through headphones, and each one has a set of sliders to adjust the treble and bass—or even make the uguisu bird louder and the bamboo leaves quieter in your Japanese garden. You can also mix sounds together to create your own little sound world.
The website is the creation of Dr. Stephane Pigeon, and many soundscapes are offered for free. To enjoy a greater number of sounds, you can make a donation to keep the site going. The soundscapes are available on the website, YouTube, or as a smartphone app.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Betty is telling me that the storm has ended and she sees mermaids swimming about. I better go check for myself!
Susan Woerner is currently working on her fantasy novel, Aradia’s Diaspora, which is turning out to be a lengthy first draft approaching 100,000 words. She is the recipient of the October 2018 Fan Favorite Award and the March 2019 Challenge Choice Award.
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