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Using Sound: An Exercise by Corinne Manning

Posted Fri, 10/04/2019 - 9:10am by  |  Category: , , ,

In a workshop, the writer Dorothy Allison had us go around the room and all fake an orgasm. 

She critiqued the authenticity and then had us write a sex scene where sound was present. This idea came up when she noticed there was a hesitation within our stories to use sound. The results of this exercise were over the top and cheesy, but the inspiration from it stays with me: allow your work to be alive, and you all have a lot to learn about utilizing sound in fiction. 

It’s from this tradition that I will be offering the Advanced Short Story Workshop this fall and winter. 

Working with Dorothy Allison taught me what it means to be a teacher and how to treat student work in workshop: as evolved and evolving and, like any published text, worthy to learn from. By focusing on just one story at a time, she managed to create exercises that specifically had to do with the craft the student was generating. And very often, the technical aspect that one student needed to work on was one that we ALL needed to work on—so why not practice together?

So to give you a sense of how we will be practicing, aside from reading and discussing each other’s work, let’s do an exercise in sound. 

Sit down in a room and turn on the memo recorder on your phone or on your computer. 

Then, close your eyes and listen carefully to the sounds in the house. If the air conditioner or fan is on, begin to make the sound—yes, actually make the sound with your own mouth. Be loud, be silly. The sounds you hear might be outside, might be the sounds of other peoples’ muffled voices. Mimic them. Record it all. 

Then, play it back, and in a notebook, write down the sounds phonetically. Make sure you put next to it what sound you were mimicking. 

Finally, write a one-paragraph scene in which two people are breaking up and one of these sounds is present. Play with including the sound as these people make a disaster of each other’s lives. 

(And I suppose, if you want to take Dorothy Allison’s orgasm root it wouldn’t hurt. According to adrienne maree brown, Octavia Butler wrote all her books in a post-coital state.)

Read what you wrote out loud to a trusted friend. Let them tell you what they heard. 

Corinne Manning’s Advanced Short Story Workshop begins on October 16. Their short story collection We Had No Rules is forthcoming from Arsenal Pulp Press in April 2020.


Corinne Manning‘s fiction has appeared in Story QuarterlyCalyxVol 1 BrooklynMossThe Bellingham ReviewSouthern Humanities Review, and is forthcoming in Wildness from Platypus Press. Additional stories and essays have appeared in Literary HubVol 1 BrooklynDrunken BoatArts & Letters, anthologized in Shadow Map: An anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM Press), and have been recognized as notable in The Best American Series. Corinne has received grants and fellowships from 4 Culture, Artist Trust, and the MacDowell Colony and founded The James Franco Review, a project on visibility and reimagining the publishing process.