The Color of Sound

Quick Background Information:

This is a short story I submitted to my school’s creative writing journal in my Freshman year of college. AND IT GOT IN! So I thought I’d share it here as my “Posting Stories” Project!

The Color of Sound

The concert hall was exactly sixty four degrees inside. Rather chilly, especially on a cold autumn evening. The audience flooded in from seven different entryways. Three on the balcony, four on the floor. While they are waiting for the production to start, women dressed in long skirts raise their eyebrows, purse their lips, and shield their snickers behind fans and expensive opera gloves. One woman openly glares at another, who dared to buy the same Mac Duggal peacock bodice ball gown. Needless to say, they did not make eye contact for the entirety of the performance, but after, feathers would fly.

The men however, could not possibly care less. Once every two weeks they were dragged to this same opera house by their wives or sisters or mothers. Sometimes even daughters, and definitely during a football game. They were pulled here to sit in the same red velvet seats and stare dazedly at the same cream and gold high ceilings. The architecture was the same. The players and conductors were the same. It was decidedly dull. The production had hardly begun before one elderly gentleman in a tailcoat had fallen asleep. He was frighteningly motionless, but no one dared to reach over and check his pulse because the lights had begun to dim.

A hush went over the audience. As the conductor made his way across the stage, the only sound that could be heard in the grand Vienna State Opera House was the ruffling of fur wraps and the crossing of aristocratic legs. The conductor turned to the audience and bowed. He then turned back to his orchestra and took a deep breath, raised his arms, and tapped once. Twice. On the third tap the head violinist raised his arm and drew the first note.

It was beautiful.

The color that ghosted out of the violin was a light aqua. It clouded over the first four or five rows and dispersed in a quick movement. It was ribbon like.

Then came the cello. Its deep melody was a wine burgundy, and it did not ghost but thrust into the air. A storm cloud of red, and then it was gone. Suddenly following it was the great booming sound of the timpani, which covered the audience in a blanket of Charleston green. Forgetting their matching gowns, both peacocks were smiling and playing with the smoky tendrils, wafting it between their fingers and tweaking the sounds.

That was the beauty of the opera; the symphony. It was about shaping the colorful sound waves between your fingers and letting it wash all over you before it disappeared into the rafters.

“You can get the same effect turning on the radio at home.” One husband or brother or father would scoff.

“It’s not the same, and you know it. There’s something about…LIVE music that just makes you feel exactly that. Alive.” She’d counter.

Both would agree to disagree as they headed off to the Vienna, neither truly dissatisfied. Because once dragged from their couches or work benches, or even from the underbelly of their cars, the men would enjoy being doted on by their female companions. Adjusting bow ties and jackets. They would feel rich and important as they walked through the ornate doors, their expensive black shoes clicking on the marble floors. They would check the coats and file in, only sulking to prove a point. When the music finally started, they would feel, in a small way, alive. While not a single jacket sleeve would find its way into the air to play with the sounds, many secret smiles would play at the edges of their mouths.

As the climax of the piece slowly grew, the excitement and rainbow of sound would build. The string section was always the deepest oceans of blues and teals, and small trickles of sea foam green. The winds were yellows and oranges and pinks, darting around like the sparks of fireworks. The percussion was a forest of deep greens and dark greys, mixing together to be the ominous yet beautiful backdrop to their bright companions. Tonight a piano accompaniment joined them, and from it sprang the most beautiful reds and purples that danced over the heads of the enraptured audience. One of them tickled the nose of the sleeping elderly gentleman, and the young man next to him sighed in relief when the old man jolted awake, proving he was in fact alive.

The final note was always the most extravagant. Everything seemed to hold still as every color at once waited in anticipation. There was clear silence, and then the color of music was everywhere. It splattered itself all over the women and their gowns and furs. It etched itself into the buttons and bow ties of all the men’s coats. Everyone was a different color, and the conductor was every color. An occupational hazard that he never ever tired from.

Finally, the colors evaporated. Like chalk in the rain, it was erased from existence, fading away from the dresses and jackets, and disappearing to wherever the color of sound goes. The conductor lowered his arms in one fluid motion, turned to the audience and bowed.

Applause erupted and everyone stood, as was customary for such a brilliant performance. When it was done, the men stretched their limbs and offered their arms, escorting their ladies from the building and back to their expensive cars. On the long drive home, no one tuned into the radio.

It would be a pale performance in comparison.

Copyright©2014 – by Shelby Sullivan

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I’m Posting Stories!

What’s Up With That?

I know I do a lot of writing about… well… writing on here, but so far I haven’t shown any of my own. That seems incredibly counter intuitive to what this site is for, so I’ll finally be putting some stuff on here (fiction usually) for your reading pleasure!

Also, feel free to give constructive criticisms on anything, though please make sure it’s in both our best interests if you do so.

That’s all! Look for them in the “personal fiction pieces” category and on the front page.

“Mapping” Your Story’s Plot…

No, I Mean Literally

Like old Pirate maps from 80’s movies, mapping your story from beginning to buried treasure is as simple as connecting the dots. To illustrate (haha, puns) this idea, I put together a round-about story map of my own. Now, it doesn’t go to any real story, and honestly won’t make a lot of sense, but it’s a good visual representation of what it could be like with your own plot.

You can do this with “Beginning, Middle, End”, By Chapter, By Major Plot Point or any other number of ways, but for our purposes today, I did the first option.

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It took me 2 tries and about twenty minutes to make this, so please don’t take it too seriously…

Doing this Yourself!

Now, like I said, mine is a jumbled mess of things, but yours wont be! When you “map” out your story, plot, novel, movie, TV show (etc…) you know exactly where you want it to go. Well… maybe not exactly, but you have a vague idea. You know where it begins, the point of the map is to show you where it’s going. Where it could go! The farther you get, the farther your characters get, and in the end it’s all “Happily Ever After” or “Damn… that happened”.

Doing it Myself

Either way, the point of this exercise is to get a firm grasp on your plot from a visual perspective. Outlines are fun and all, but there tedious to make and even worse to look at. I personally like this idea, and plan to work on it with my book in the near future. This exercise was fun for me, and from it I learned:

  • Summarizing is your best friend. There’s nothing wrong with having a concise idea of story, and adding detail later to the final product.
  • There are a lot of potential bumps in the road. The first time I did this (not shown here) I was amazed at how many loops, twists and turns that I had drawn into my “plot”. It made me think of my own story, and whether or not it had enough or needed all of the twists that it currently had.
  • How to make outlining fun! This is WAY cuter and more hands-on then just typing out a long, boring outline on my computer. I used colors, my own handwriting and allowed myself to just stick to basic pens and sharpies. Not having the distraction of the internet was a blessing.
  • Use LARGE PAPER (or many sheets)… Now, this one was for scanning and uploading here on the blog, but boy can you NOT fit everything you need to. Gods forbid I needed a character’s hometown name, setting, backstory or anything else relevant from my story. When this was suggested to me, it was pointed out that using a roll of paper or an easily stored roll of poster board would make it easier to get a better visual. Hell, turn it into a poster you hang in your room. Let it inspire you, without overwhelming you.

Anyway, the idea is pretty cool, the execution fun and the potential? LIMITLESS!

Thanks for checking out this post!

Re-Working

You Know You Need a Re-Work When:

  • You Cringe at your own Dialogue
  • You’re not sure what the scene looks like / can’t picture it
  • Your character annoys you
  • You re-read the same paragraph at least twice (2 times is too many)

The process of writing is exactly that: a process. If you can get it all in one go, you’re probably Bradly Cooper in Limitless. If not, then you’re just like the rest of us.

I used to get so frustrated when I’d have to rewrite a sentence, paragraph, page, A CHAPTER… (pauses for calming breath) but I’ve realized, over the course of my casual writing career, that rewrites and re-works are a good way to pause your progress momentarily so you have long-term inspiration and a clear head.

Trust me, they’re not the enemy.

I Love Re-Writes!

I know that sounds like a bunch of bullshit, but it’s not. When I was in High School, for some reason I told myself that if it needed a rewrite than it must not be salvageable, or that it was too shitty in the first place to keep giving it any thought. I was totally wrong. I realized that rewriting was one of the best things you could do is to take another look at your writing.

Here’s the biggest reason why:

YOU PICKED THIS STORY FOR A REASON!

You don’t just sit down to a story because your fingers start typing of their own accord.You have an idea in your head. Whether it was conceived in the shower, in a boring classroom or at night when you can’t sleep, your idea struck a cord with you SO much that you actually sat down to try and write it. You put in some effort. Just because what came out wasn’t “New York Times Bestseller” worthy, doesn’t mean that the idea itself wasn’t very good.

Have faith that what you’re working on is worth it, even if you’re the only one who will ever read it. No matter what genre, topic, fanfiction; anything. Remember: it’s your story, you like it, YOU are writing it.

So What’s Really Wrong?

It’s hard to decide what’s wrong with a chapter, or what about a paragraph or a character interaction that just isn’t working. There are lots of things that could be going wrong, but a few here are:

  1. The plot isn’t affected or furthered by this interaction and therefore the reader finds it trivial or unnecessary.
  2. The dialogue doesn’t match your earlier style from the previous chapters and everything seems…off?
  3. It could be that the setting isn’t properly shown or explained, therefore you feel like you know what’s going on but you’re having trouble seeing it.
  4. You left off a few days ago and can’t remember where you were going with it, and are now panicking because you really liked what you had, but can no longer re-create it.

There’s also the possibility that it’s just a bad first try, which is easily messed with for a second, third or fourth time. I personally like to cut the part out that you don’t like and paste it into a separate document or on a separate sheet of paper. That way I don’t forget it. I then re-work with a blank start, keeping the old idea but making the new one something completely its own. It doesn’t have to be drastically different, just drastically more appealing.

Now, to address the 4 possibilities I wrote earlier (in case this is you), here are a some corresponding suggestions.

  1. What about this is trivial? Why isn’t the plot moving forward? If your characters are just having romantic dialogue in the middle of a novel, have some of it pertain to the plot, or the past moments of the plot. To keep the story going (in an otherwise stale moment) make it lead up to some ACTION. If they’re settling in for the night, have a huge, boring talk and then go to bed, the reader will probably not find this part of the book overwhelming or interesting. If an interaction is happening that allows a character introspective thought, or maybe they’re just talking to themselves, remember that there IS a story going on, and that this should be a crucial moment for that character. Not just some random babble by the babbling brook.
  2. Remember, you created these characters from nothing. Like the gods, magical wizards and divine intervention, things that come from nothing are created with a real, specific purpose. You NEED to know your character inside and out. KNOW what they think, what they love and how they feel. You shouldn’t be confused by your characters actions without the characters themselves also being confused. Sure, we all act out of character once in a while, but there must be some huge reason. Maybe they’re falling in love, maybe they’ve just escaped death? Maybe they’re under a lot of pressure or stress and exploded out of nowhere. Make whatever is happening (if it’s different than normal) COUNT. If this moment in time isn’t supposed to mean that much, then consider thinking about what you know about your character and go for a re-try.
  3. WHERE AM I? If I’m your reader, I shouldn’t be going through this very important situation, action scene, conversation or monologue trying to remember where we are or how the Hell we got here. I know reading is just some really good hallucination, but that doesn’t mean I’m always going to know what it’ll look like. Don’t forget to help every chance you get with minor details. “The blood spatter on his face dripped closer and closer to his mouth. She knew that if the massacred orc blood made it onto his tongue, the Battle of Red River would have been for nothing. Nothing at all.”
  4. Okay, if you can’t remember where you were going with this, IT’S TOTALLY FINE! It’s actually WONDERFUL! This is a perfect time to shake things up, try something else. If you’re here working without a very clear outline, then you’ve got nothing to lose. This could send the story in a whole new direction, or add a few more awesome scenes before it gets back on track. There’s nothing wrong with flying by the seat of your pants, or your character’s pants either. Most of the time your second thought turns out WAY better than the first.

In Conclusion What I mean is:

Rewriting things is totally worth your time. I know that we put our hearts and souls into our work, and I know that it can be scary to tear it apart, but in the end, you know better than anyone what your story could be. There’s nothing wrong with a little critique, a lot of patience and a nice red pen.

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Here’s a comforting picture of Sage to let you know that it’s all okay, and when you’re done, you can take a nap.

Character Creation!

There’s no ‘one’ way…

When creating characters, we put a lot of effort into them. Their names, family, friends, appearance, occupation, where they live, what they like, dislike, how tall are they? There is a lot of planning and structure that goes into a character. Sometimes we have difficulty figuring out how we want to build these characters, or what’s the ‘best’ way to go about creating them.

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Ben White – Unsplash.com

“What if I miss something?”
“What if they’re not relatable?”
“What if no one likes them?”

Creating characters should: A) Not be this hard… and B) Be fun and exciting!

When I create my characters, I have at least one specific idea in mind. Mostly I start with their gender (they don’t need one of course) and then go into appearance, personality and finally when all of that is said and done, I attempt to match them with an appropriate name. But where does this process start?

Their role in the story.

If I’m creating the main character, there’s a lot to consider:

  • How do they talk/act/move?
  • Is their personality strong or weak?
  • Are they more likely to cry or scream?
  • Dance or sing or neither?

Questions like these really get you interested in, not only your character’s back story, but who they are as a ‘person’. If you’re interested, there is a good chance your reader might be, too.

But, what if this method doesn’t work for me?

This post is derived from poewar.com, and their post on the 10 days of character building: http://www.poewar.com/10-days-of-character-building-wrap-up/

Together, we’ll go through one of their techniques and create a random character from scratch! As I go through this, hopefully I’ll be learning a new technique, and you’ll be getting a better idea on building your characters in the future!

In the future I’ll probably use a few more techniques, especially as my research continues in the book I’m reading, but for now, let’s just use one.

A Day in the Life:

Using poewar’s “A Day in the Life” article for character building, we’ll create a random, imperfect, interesting main character for any sort of book. While plots and stories might change, the character shouldn’t. For example, you wouldn’t just change your morals, values or language with a blink of an eye. You wouldn’t be walking down the street one day and just murder a man with your bare hands! (Or would you???)

Using this method, we’ll be able to create some concrete and consistent traits that should be followed throughout your story, until (one day) your story changes that character forever. Or, in more popular films, the character changes the world they’re living in.

The article’s suggestion is a normal drive to work, but for this blog’s purposes, I’ll choose a different scenario to get the same feeling. How about: a day at work.

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Kevin Lee – Unsplash.com

Alright, first some quick decisions:

  • Male – Alex
  • 32 years old
  • Black hair, blue eyes, 5ft 9in
  • Wife, son, three German shepherds
  • House
  • No remaining parents or siblings
  • Occupation: Taxi Driver

Cool! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in. (In retrospect, this is similar to a drive to work, but when your job is driving…well…)

Alex drives and works in New York City. His small home in the outer city of Secaucus, New Jersey is comfortable, quiet, and close by. He is by no means against working in the city, but could live without the traffic and angry pedestrians. A few gray hairs have already shown on the top of his head, and he regrets the microwave burrito that he had for breakfast.

His taxi is clean, suggesting he takes pride in his work. He likes the radio, usually talk shows, but sometimes old rock music from the 80’s. He doesn’t like to fiddle with the radio, it distracts from his driving, and when he chooses a station it usually stays that way until lunch, and then the new station lasts from lunch until his shift ends; provided that no customer asks for anything else. After ten years of driving for a living, he is a calm, relaxed driver. He’s used to the hustle and bustle, and drives smoothly through traffic, even during rush hour. Their’s is such a cool, familiar personality that most of his customers keep him as a regular, and in fact ask for him personally. One gentleman in particular, an ancient banking CEO with an affinity for taking a cab, always has something jovial to discuss with him during their early mornings. He’s even been to Alex’s house once or twice for dinner.

OKAY, STOP.

What does this paragraph tell you? What do you feel when you think of him? Is he anything like you pictured when you thought of an NYC taxi driver? And who is this mysterious man who requests his services and dines with his family? Is the CEO kind? Suspicious? There’s another character plot right there. While this is a quick look into the life of Alex the taxi driver, there’s no guarantee if he’s the main character, a side character or someone we only see once.

Maybe he’s murdered. Maybe he’s abducted by aliens to be an intergalactic taxi-man. Maybe he’s none of these things.

That’s the beauty of character building and story building. They could go literally anywhere! Sometimes your character creation builds the story, and sometimes the story builds the character. For example, just by going through this quick paragraph (which took me less than ten minutes) I imagine that the old CEO of the bank dies suddenly one day, and poor Alex winds up as the last man to ever see him. Now he’s on the run from people who want him dead, a corrupt police force and his family’s lives are on the line. How does it all end?

Final Thoughts:

This exercise was SO FUN! The whole thing took me less than ten minutes and I have a vague outline of a story! Does the writing process take a lot more? Of course, but now I’m excited with a great place to start! While I may not pursue this story at this time, it will always be there for me to add onto, ten minutes here and there, every day/week/month.

Don’t let things like the name of a character or what color hair they have to get you down. Names can change, colors can be dyed, but personalities are concrete and influence a character’s decisions. The story might throw them curve balls, but the character knows what they’ll do when they come.

Do you?

Without Shadow

Asking Questions:

As previously mentioned in my first post, I am currently reading The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques by Nancy Lamb. While reading the first three chapters, I noticed I began asking myself a lot of questions about my own writing and the characters I create.

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Photo by freestocks.org

Carl Jung describes our “inner beast” as our “shadow”. That side of us that we hide from the world. Like “the moon” tarot card, we have a side of us that rarely sees light, and we suppress it to live normally in our current world. In writing, the shadow is the great opposite ‘inner’ person within our characters:

“The irony is that even though the shadow is ugly and threatening and abhorrent to us, without it we wouldn’t be full human beings. Our savage nature not only imbues us with our creativity and passion, it fuels are intuition and inspiration.”

 – The Art and Craft of Storytelling, pp. 10

How do you build your characters? I like to start from their role in the story. What they’re going to be doing, how they act in certain situations of the plot is incredibly important to me. Their personality, their deepest fears; dreams. All of this goes into character building for me. But there are other sides to our characters that develop along the way. As writers, we can’t always have sweet, Mary-Sues running around the pages. I like characters with real features. Believable, while still so unbelievable that you’d read a story about them.

How can I rip apart this character where they no longer have that other side to them?

Stripped of Darkness

Let’s imagine a character for a moment. Say his name is James. He’s a single father with two daughters. He sells cars. A devoted religious man, he attends church, does charity work and issues strict dating rules upon his daughters to protect their innocence and their purity with God. If we were to give him a shadow, we would imagine that he is gay. This, of course, would create problems within himself, between his family and within his own personal community of people on whom he relies. This drives plot, and more deliciously, conflict.

Now, what if he had no shadow. He was just a dad doing his best. Maybe he would find a new wife and mother for his daughters, and live happily ever after? Now, the question you need to ask yourself is: would you read that story? Sure, it’s adorable. Maybe a romantic comedy mixed with family values and personal, spiritual growth. But would you read it?

“Whether we neglect or affirm it, whether we like it or loathe it, our shadow will always be with us.” – pp. 11

I think I have discovered that it IS possible to take away someone’s shadow. Except, without this component, the story would be…without. It would be missing something: opportunity. As writers, and as readers, we crave that great plot that keeps us turning the pages. We want that inspiration that keeps us tapping away at the keyboard. Would you write about James? Would you feel excited? Inspired? Bored?

I think my steam would run out pretty quickly with that story line.

Maybe main characters need their shadow, or else suffer from a dull, linear story that has no twists or turns or great cliffhangers. Maybe only side characters can be shadow-less. Maybe those who help move the plot, but are not directly doing action to move it, need not be explored that deeply. Thoughts?

Personal Experiment (Hypothesis and Conclusion)

I am currently attempting to write a genetically modified human who is out of touch with himself and others. My hypothesis was that maybe he could be written without shadow. What if his outer-side was his only side, and that he was incapable of hiding anything from the world because he wouldn’t know how to do so. Like Frankenstein’s Monster, freshly borne from the science of their world, he would be lost. He would require education, or exploration of his world before he could even fathom hiding things from others. Would this make him relatable? Incomprehensible?

My final conclusion would be to write him with a shadow he cannot see for himself. His outward apperance is:

  • Tough
  • Survivalist
  • Incapable of jokes
  • Protective

Through this, though, I want to emphasize that he is insecure, lost, afraid of being turned away by ‘real’ humans. I want my character to be a teddy bear with spikes.

Can a story be about discovering your own shadow? I would like to be the one who writes it.

Welcome to WordPress

First and Foremost: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I’d like to announce the magical fact that I began this blog on New Years Eve.

Brief Introductions are in Order:

I suppose I should first introduce myself. Though, my first instinct was to express my frustrations with beginning this blog, and the utter ineptitude I seem to possess for how blogging mechanics work. Regardless, like writing this is a process, so for now the default color pallet will have to do.

My name is Shelby. I am a female, redheaded college student who is currently majoring in Anthropology (a fact I’m revealing now as it will no doubt come up in later posts). My beautiful dog Sage is the current love of my life, though my boyfriend tends to protest when I announce this. I have a run-down Jeep, a laptop and a ton of books.

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Currently she’s living with my parents, but I’m in a war over custody. Stay tuned ❤

On the inside, though, I am a writer. Not to say this as if it were some great secret. I’m writing all the time. Talking about it; working on my own pieces. Everyone in my life knows I’m a writer. Except you, of course.

Well, now you do.

My writing has always remained unfinished. The purpose of this blog is to begin my journey toward a finished manuscript. I need motivation; passion. My old passions have fallen between the cracks of a busy life, but with this blog I hope to rekindle that fire (with the bonus intent of helping other aspiring writers along the way).

What to Expect?

I’m going to be doing a lot of research on writing. Right now (and this is what started the idea for me) I am reading The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques by: Nancy Lamb. I’ve been asking myself a few questions; comparing my own characters and writing style. Instead of asking them alone, I’ll ask them here. Hopefully we’ll create discussion, spark some theories and even get a few answers for our own writing.

I’m excited to start, regardless of fan-traffic or participation. So, if you’d like to contribute, I can’t wait to meet you! But if you’d rather watch my progress silently from the sidelines, I’ll be okay with that as well.

Well… here we go!