Michaeline: Writing Between the Lines

circa 1810 or so. A man sees a golden disk, a young lady sniffs at a vial of perfume, a man listens with disdain to his pocket watch, a man enjoys a small dish of something, and an old man feels the young lady's plump and tender forearm, while looking at her slyly.

Imagine capturing the five senses with your eyes and words . . . .

The universe is in sync. Last week, Elizabeth asked us to share other ways we tell stories. And lately, the universe has been talking to me about audio drama.

NPR’s All Things Considered had a story about writing for audiobooks on their March 9, 2015, podcast. If you’ve got six minutes, you can listen to the story. It’s worthwhile to click on the link and read the comments, too.

As reporter Lynn Neary mentions, advances in technology has made it super-easy to enjoy audio work these days. I started listening to podcasts two years ago, when I discovered how easy it was to download. One of my favorites is Emma Newman’s Tea and Jeopardy series. Ostensibly, it’s work. She invites SFF professionals to tea, and chats about their work and writing in general. Listening to her podcasts help me keep up with the genre news.

But what makes it fun is the framing story – her tea lair is set in a different exotic spot each podcast, and there’s always a “mild spot of peril” involved. Emma writes the words, but she also makes sure to include sound effects, like the Magic Singing Chickens. Gentle humor, mild peril, tea and cake . . . she’s hitting so many sensory buttons here!

If you want to go a step further, people are exploring 4-D entertainment, as well. Archaeologist Stuart Eve discusses his narratives of the past using an iPad, an archaeological site, bone-conducting headphones and his own version of smell-o-vision which he’s calling “Dead Man’s Nose.” Can you imagine the possibilities for writing for such a format? In his story, you wander a tin-miner’s village in Cornwall (UK), listening to the fires crackle and the buzz of conversation around the hearth, while smelling woodsmoke, roasted meat and barnyards.

What a delight it would be to work with a producer who could help me make Bunny Blavatsky’s first masquerade ball a virtual reality. The chilly arena in Madison Square Garden, the smell of perfume and champagne, the sound of a waltz, the murmur of conversation in several languages, punctuated by loud laughter .

Even if you don’t feel your talents lean toward a non-textual sort of writing, thinking about those sights, sounds and smells can make your written story more textural, not just textual.

What’s your favorite scene-setting snippet of text? (It can be yours or someone else’s.) How did the author create that feeling of a real world? How can we co-opt those techniques?

8 thoughts on “Michaeline: Writing Between the Lines

  1. Your post reminded me of a fantastic exhibition that ran in the UK nearly 20 years ago, to coincide with the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book. The exhibits included a talking hologram which recited excerpts from the book. Seeing that ghostly face and hearing it speak made the old English language of the book come alive for me in a way I’ve never forgotten. It was the closest to time travel I’ve ever been.

  2. I’m not sure about making books solely for audio purposes, but I’m definitely a fan of audio books…someone’s written word read by someone else. For me, in the US, hearing Georgette Heyer read with all the different English accents — upper crusty, Cornwall, south London, Manchester, etc. — is wonderful. It brings the story to life.

    In my latest editorial effort of Three Proposals, I’ve been focusing more on sensory things — notably smell, sound, and touch. Jeanne, who read 3P recently, said I did well, and I’m glad, because it’s things like that which can really make the story leap off the page.

    • (-: Like madeleines, I guess. There are many sounds, smells and “feels” that are almost universal, I think. Some aren’t exactly universal, but everyone knows what you mean when you talk about the smell of a lover’s skin. The smell would depend upon the lover, of course, but many who have been aroused by a lover may remember something that’s hard to put into words . . . .

  3. This isn’t exactly what you’re talking about, but Courtney Milan recently released some “enhanced” ebook editions. As you read along, you could press a button and get extra material—videos, side notes, etc.—that were relevant to the story or the time period. My old Kindle didn’t support the format, but I’d wondered what it was like. I thought it might interfere with the story line, but I never had the change to find out. 🙂

    • I often think this is the future of book writing. Internet glosses for people who aren’t quite sure what a pelisse is, for example. Or would like to know more about the Corn Act (-:. I think it would be fairly simple to embed a sound file so one could hear that fox trot or ragtime tune . . . .

      I’m such a geek and I love all that extra info; I wonder if I’m an outlier though, and the “normal” consumer would be put off by links and side trips? It smacks a tiny bit of “make your own adventure” — but I thought that was a cool concept, too.

      • I definitely wouldn’t be put off by it. It lends understanding to the story without being a bunch of drivel you have to read through. If you know about the Corn Acts, then great, you’re good to go, but if not, it opens a bit of history that you otherwise might have chosen to remain ignorant about.

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