I took a great trip to Virden, New Mexico last week with a friend – partly a leisure trip to learn about processing fresh, farm-grown green chilis, and partly a “field research” trip for my novel.
Along the way, on Rt. 70 – somewhere between Duncan and Safford – I began to notice what looked like debris all over the highway. As we continued, the debris became even more heavily concentrated, like scattered cigars all along the road.
To my chagrin, I realized we were crunching over a mass exodus of grasshoppers as they passed from one creosote-studded plain to another. There was literally no way to avoid running them over.
Once in Virden, we took a convertible ride through the small farming town. This exposure to the open air was spectacular, drawing us closer to beautiful rock outcroppings, the Gila River and blue skies. But it also added a new element to my grasshopper experience. Unfortunately, now I could hear the sound of their hard-shelled bodies and wings pinging off the underside of the car as we hit a stray one here and there (they were much less abundant in this area). For someone who likes to rescue and admire bugs, the entire ‘grasshopper event,’ was disturbing… even despite being quickly reassured by the locals that the grasshoppers are destructive, evil pests to the farmer.
For Writers: Never underestimate the power of using sensory detail in your novel – especially sound. As gory as it is, I can still “hear” the click and snap of those poor grasshoppers as they crunched under the tires, and clanged under the wheel wells of the car. If I were going for a macabre description that left an impression in my readers’ minds, this would surely work.
Earlier this week when I was interviewing a funeral home director as part of my research, I was reminded again of how vital ‘sound’ descriptions are to the novel. This gentleman shared a defining moment in his career that was intensified by the sound of metal instruments dropping on a porcelain embalming table.
Sensory description that includes sound is just one more way to reach your reader and leave a lasting impression … disturbing or melodic.