All writers know the importance of the writer’s eye: the ability to notice fine detail that others might miss, seeing patterns, resemblances, and conflicts. But how many of us ever consider the importance of the writer’s ear?
We all know the importance of listening to the cadences of natural speech, the way other people talk, the background noises of our lives that make telling details in our stories. But what about the other writer’s ear, the one that hears things that are not really there?
I often hear commercials on the radio urging women to be sure they get their “screaming mammograms”. I always wonder if maybe a screening mammorgram would be less painful. Mis-hearings like this can be inspirational at times. Harlan Ellison tells of hearing a woman at a party say “Jefty is five. He’s always five.” That inspired his short story “Jefty is Five” about a little boy who is always five, at least physically. What the woman really said — “Jefty is fine” — just does not have the same effect.
Similarly, the notion of a screaming mammogram leaves me with some thoughts that may one day pan out. Under what circumstances would such a thing be considered standard medical procedure? Why would women consent to this procedure? What would be their pay-off? That cross-pollinization with “what if” is what makes the writer’s ear so special. What we hear becomes a different sort of reality in our minds.
Do you pay attention to the things you hear? What about the things you only think you hear?