Linda Maye Adams

Action, Adventure, Earthquake: What Does One Sound Like?


When I was kid, we’d go to the Griffith Park Observatory, which is an exhibit of all things science.  Moon rocks, electricity, and, of course, earthquakes.  There was a seismograph on display, showing all the earthquakes that had occurred in the last day.  Of course, all the kids were jumping up and down in front of that seismograph, trying to “make” an earthquake.

But the seismograph only shows one piece of earthquakes, especially when it comes to describing the experience.  For the research for Miasma, the other experiences were just as important to know:

What the heck does an earthquake sound like?

Surprisingly, while there’s a lot on how earthquakes work and on the damage, there’s not much on the actual experience.  The University of San Diego has a number of recordings made during quakes, all indoors.  We hear objects falling, the screams.

And the fear.

My own experiences with earthquakes are inside buildings, which is different than the setting in Miasma, outside, atop an island similar to Mokolii Island.  Curiously, the most memorable indoor sound I heard was the sound of the house as it moved back and forth. Tick, tick, tick, tick.

Some examples of outdoor earthquake sounds:

Outside, there would still be objects falling — but likely bigger objects.  During Virginia quake, the spires on the National Cathedral fell and landed on the ground.  So, the cracking of the spires as they broke, and the crash as they impacted with the concrete sidewalk.  Didn’t see that, but it’s not hard to imagine.  Brick chimneys always came down during the quakes in L.A.
Cracking sound, too, of concrete and other building materials breaking, metal being torn apart.  That one, unfortunately, is not hard to imagine when seeing pictures like this from the Department of Transportation.
Church bells might start ringing if the quake was big enough.  From National Geographic:
On December 16, 1811, a powerful earthquake jolted the 400 residents of the town of New Madrid, Missouri. The intense tremor set church bells ringing in Boston, Massachusetts—1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away.
People screaming in panic.  Though this experience is indoors, it can be applied anywhere.  When the Tacoma, Washington quake hit (early 90s), one of the female soldiers ran up and down the barracks hallway screaming, “Earthquake! Earthquake!  Earthquake!”  Other people might pray or swear.
A tree branch might creak as it moved — pulling from experiences with high wind.  A sharp crack as it breaks.  Leaves rustling from the movement.

Covering all the senses in an an action scene helps bring to the experience for the reader and make it more vivid.

What do you think fear sounds like?  Tell us about it!

hope you’ll drop in for a visit with my article Writing a Novel When You’re Right-Brained on Vision: A Resource for Writers.

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