Warning, this was partly sparked by being driven out of a bookstore – yet again – by the background music. Out of a bookstore. When I love books. Customer satisfaction, yer doin’ it wrong….
What are the sounds of a fictional world? Animal, plant, wind; the strum of a lute, the hissing crackle of lava pouring into the sea? What does a character hear, when all else is silent?
Is the world customarily quiet, just the wind blowing over the dunes? Or is it the 24/7/365 cacophony of a planet-wide city, advertisements blaring from every street-sign, horns and alarms galore? Do your characters have to work to get any quiet time to think? Or is the problem too much quiet, and too much thinking, and deciding to go do something drastic about it?
Sound is one of the interesting senses, because it’s the only one that potentially gives us a full 360-degree perception of the world around us. In a sense, it’s “touch at a distance”, using vibrations to perceive something we can’t physically get our hands on. In human evolutionary terms, both hearing and sight evolved from skin-sensors; one to pressure, the other to light. Which, some speculate, is one of the reasons blind people can adapt hearing and touch to give them a visual interpretation of the world: the brain still considers them all part of the same set of sensors, so rewiring isn’t nearly as hard as if, say, you were trying to smell the world for details.
Sound is also interesting because it’s invisible. The sounds your character doesn’t consciously notice can be critical, because that’s what makes up their day-to-day environment. Someone who ignores the clacking of people assembling firearms has a far, far different perception of what’s supposed to be in their environment than someone who’s ignoring the crackling static of the idiots in the next thaumaturgical lab trying to get their lightning elemental back into the Faraday cage. Again.
But to me one of the most critical sounds you can put in your book is a silence, where your character’s expecting sounds they know. The hush of birds fleeing before the storm. The sound of footsteps halting in a dark alley. The absent hum, where the power should be running the fridge, the A/C, the electric fences holding back the velociraptors….
Silence. Done right, it’s more scary than you think!