Sounds Like…

Posted: December 27, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

A typical Jacobs Special fistfight…

Punch. Kick. Hard elbow. POW-POW-POW! Side kick. TH-WHAACK! Punch. Punch. Triangle block. KA-POW!

Of course, I do sometimes drop in a sentence or two about who’s winning, or if the hero might just gas out (fights are mini stories and John Steed needing a breath and cornerman to keep going kind of covers the internal All Is Lost Moment). Pretty much though I just do the moves and the vicious sound effects to go with ‘em.

The influences always come back to two things: Adam West Batman and the average Popeye dust cloud fight with Bluto. Seems to me that stripping out the subjects and objects from what would otherwise be complete sentences like – Popeye switched open the other eye and thrust his knuckle sandwich right at Bluto’s kisser – creates confusion. A natural state in many fights.

When I do go against my base style seen in Paragraph Two in favor of the turgid Mike Hammer inspired prose, I guarantee you my next sentence is ALWAYS about flying canine teeth. I get to be that vicariously bloodthirsty in my work, the way Popeye animators facing studio Hays Code censors couldn’t. It isn’t lost on me that a probable emergency creative solution to an arbitrary restriction, I’ve elevated to high order art.

Anyway, my personal predilections for equal helpings of confusing fight prose juxtaposed with turgid aren’t really the point of this post. Except as a hook to talk about how sound effects can affect how we write across all the many media.

Where to start? Ben Burtt tapping steel tension cables that held up telephone poles getting a sound onomatopoeically transcribed as – PEEEEW? Puh-lease, forty-year-old Star Wars solutions, while brilliant, should be a jumping off point to other sounds, not the landing place. Besides, I’m partial to – ZZZT! – or ZAP! – for all things laser, taser and Joker’s hyped up joy buzzer. I’m guessing I associate a fairly classic visual here, that of the lightning revealing the victim’s skeleton. Okay, maybe lasers realistically work with a much different onomatopoeia, but in my books…nope, don’t actually like landing on the Writer as God theory, not out loud.

Yes, I have had Sound Effects as an academic subject in film class. We clapped when someone figured out a key sound to go over a breezy desert-scape on the Avid box: microphone, cover with paper, rub it on the wall. And when I still regularly watched DVD/BLU-RAY extras I learned about celery sticks as a key tool on the Foley stage…and wet T-shirts.

I’ve also held the mic on shows and have that Executive Producer moment with the earphones on, “now, if we could only get her to sound like that in real life.” That one earned two clicks on the mic from the boom guy, Audio/Radio for “Yep, but I can’t say it at the moment.”

I suppose all of this is the longwinded way of saying sound is such a HUGE part of the world I experience and therefore write about. I blame the Adam West Batman show…not really. But, with every – POW! KAPOW! SOCK-O! & OOOF! – I was done. Well, there was also Speed Racer with all those cool crash sound effects, but they weren’t printed on screen…they barely count for the purpose of this post. Though I find it odd that I had to fight harder to watch Speed than Batsie, but I digress.

And then I learned to read with comic books being a key way station between the books Mommy reads to you and George Smiley metaphorically suplexing Karla the Evil Russian. Sergeant Ernie Rock busted out quite a bit of – BUDDA-BUDDA! – for going full Rock N Roll on the Tommygun. Still trying to figure the .50-caliber machine gun belts that never came off his shoulders, except when captured. That and the whole thing about walking out of the Battalion Aid Station thirty-six hours after taking a sucking chest wound to lead Easy to victory dressed in mummy bandages. But, I digress…

You write like you read. With all of the above, of course, I’ll put a protagonist through the windshield of a yellow Lamborghini (one of many 18-scale toy…uh, inspiration aids in my living room). As I remember that moment, I went for it with – SCREEEEECH! CRUUUNCH! – and maybe described the falling glass with an actual sentence.

How did my protagonist walk away from that one? I went with It Was All a Dream, but honestly by letting the reader know in the first sentence. Further proof, Ducky, that I have perpetrated just about every cliché under the sun without remorse.

In addition to reading comics for other reasons like that even as a mostly educated fifty-cough gent, reading is easier with pictures. I have cool sound effects to greedily anticipate. My favorites – SNIKT! – for Wolverine’s claws. KTANG! – for banging metal together (haven’t used it, yet. Coming soon!). Maybe I’ll bust out a few – THROOOOOMS! – on a just because basis. And maybe I’ll make something up that gets copied by the next bloodthirsty honorary Teenaged Mutant Ninja Scribe to come after.

One caveat, just as you will only see printed sound effects in comics panels covering big moments, prose will always run home to Mama in favor of either complete sentences or fragments that mimic sentences (like stripping out the verb To Be for overuse). I think I bust out my sound effects because I’m bored with the previous three paragraphs. Insight…I think.

Anyway, I’ve just adroitly blasted off a lot of words perhaps about nothing, or even deceptively about lots of things writing related. Things like, “it’s okay to take two left turns away from The Way Things Must Be Done.” Or stop reading this blog long enough to invent your own style, methods and proclivities. I won’t tell.

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