Have you ever told a story of a giant without making its loud stomping footsteps, or told one of a swarm of bees without making them buzz around? Or how about one of a snoring dragon without the resounding zzz’s? Sound is all around us, and maybe at times too much. From traffic in the air to traffic on the ground, beeping phones and computers, crying babies and snoring spouses, tv shows and movie screens, these are a few of my favorite things. However, telling a story without the accompanying sound effects can be rather bland. Actually, if I forget to add some, my kids will provide their own.
Sound effects were one of the first elements of storytelling that my kids mastered. When they were around 2, their favorite movie was Disney’s Robin Hood. So, like in the movie, I gave them each a birthday penny. Now, I wasn’t going to give my kids a real penny that they could swallow, but I would reach deep into my pocket to dig out an imaginary one. I would take this imaginary penny and place it in each of their hands. Personally, I had grown up with an older brother and a younger sister so I wasn’t new to how sibling’s interacted, but for my triplets, I was surprised at how quickly things escalated. For as soon as I dropped the imaginary penny into my daughter’s awaiting hand, my youngest son, much like the Sheriff of Nottingham, would take it from her.
Now in all things imaginary, there are rules. For example, if someone creates something like a tea party or a birthday penny, it doesn’t suddenly become a bird and fly away. My son, and especially my daughter, already understood this. He would walk up and take it by reaching out to her still open hand and then make a ‘take’ sound that resembled the cocking of a gun. My daughter understood what his devious sound effect meant. Her imaginary birthday penny was gone. The scream that erupted from her was as if a priceless prized possession was irrevocably stolen. I might have encouraged my son a little by my uncontrolled laughter.
Afterward, I would calm her down by somehow replacing her imaginary penny with a new one. One, I added, that couldn’t be stolen. Which is another rule of all things imaginary: ‘Whatever parents say can’t be undone.’ For kids, it’s much like saying, “Infinity ‘No-backs’”, which gives the claimant immediate authority, rights, privileges, and powers over whatever was said.
I know for many, a time of silence can be like answered prayer, but a story without any sound effects is like a toothless smile. Unless you are doing some kind of Charlie Chaplin tribute for ‘silent films’, of which they still had background music, try to employ a bit of effect devious or otherwise to help bring your story to life. Make that giant sound huge, the swarm of bees all around, or that snoring dragon getting the best-uninterrupted sleep you wish you could get, all with sound effects. Can you see what I hear?