1. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Writing a sound in a sentence when the subject is unknown.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Artist369, Dec 28, 2014.

    I've noticed a repeating conundrum I have whenever I try to write about a sound occurring when the reader doesn't know who or what is making the sound (in other words, a missing subject). I've tried to compensate by making the sound the subject, but it doesn't quite work.

    For example:

    I want the focus on the footsteps, but we don't know if it's a man or woman at first. Yet technically a footstep can't "sound". How else do I write this?

    Another example:

    Technically a voice can't "say" anything. A person speaks, not a voice. But how else do I denote this if we don't know who is speaking? I could eliminate the dialogue tag, but that might confuse the reader into thinking it was the main character who said it.

    I could say:
    But I've seen that referred to "filtering" (showing versus telling). Instead of "he saw/heard", etc., you jump straight to what occurred. Instead of "he saw a bird fly by", you write, "a bird flew by". Instead of "he heard a horn as the bus sped past", "the bus driver blared the horn as he drove past". But without a subject otherwise, is this an exception?

    -------------------

    EDIT: The last example you could just say "someone said from behind him". That works fine. Don't know why I didn't think of that upfront.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2014
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  2. Eric Byers
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    Eric Byers Member

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    "Three footsteps sounded against the floorboards and a female face emerged into the light."

    You could write it like:

    "The sound of footsteps against the floorboards alerted him to a female face emerging into the light"

    Not sure that, that is good. Im a novice but that's how I'd write it :) hope that helps.
     
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  3. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    "Three footsteps sounded against the floorboards and a female face emerged into the light."

    You cannot hear the footstep itself but the action of a footstep can make a sound, for example.

    The squeak of the floorboards alerted him to someone approaching and from out of the dark a female face emerged.
     
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  4. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Hey, now there's an idea! What could you use if the floor was smooth?
     
  5. Eric Byers
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    Eric Byers Member

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    Even smooth floors creek ;)
     
  6. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Like pavement for example? Because I wanted to write something similar with smooth tiled floors and pavement and I couldn't come with anything. A floorboard can creak, but a smooth linoleum floor can't squeak. A shoe however, can squeak against it. But if you're not looking behind you and you hear a squeak, how do you know it was a shoe that made the sound?
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    For what it's worth, the word "footfall" is the sound of a footstep, so maybe you could use

    Three footfalls came from the room behind him.

    Also, those "filtering" things aren't actually grammatical errors, so while I try to avoid filtering when possible, I don't consider it actually wrong to say:

    He heard three footsteps from the room behind him.

    Or you could avoid giving it its own full sentence and insert it into other action:

    The file cabinet was a disappointment. Utility bills. Credit card bills. Mortgage statements. Wherever Mr. Watson kept his scandalous memorabilia, it wasn't here. Jane stuffed the last folder back in the last drawer...and then stopped, listening. Was that a footstep? Yes, it was, and that was another. And now a third. Dammit; first no gossip, and now the place was haunted?

    "I see you finally found the key." A man's voice, right behind her.

    And that was the last straw. Jane rushed headlong for the door, not even looking round to see the source of the voice.
     
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  8. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Can I just say, I love your on-the-fly examples? Thanks for the ideas, chickenfreak.
     
  9. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Good thread.
    I've had the same worries about unattributed sounds and poor looking sentences with the word 'sounded' in them.

    Sometimes 'echoed' works, though it gets a bit silly if too many sounds are echoing.
     

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