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Audio Diegesis

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Whether audible sounds comes from within the story or not

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
ginsengaddict on Jan 6th 2015 at 1:21:00 PM
Last Edited By:
lakingsif on Jan 9th 2018 at 2:21:54 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Sound in media is typically split into two forms: Diegetic and Non-Diegetic. Diegetic is roughly equivalent to In-Universe — the characters can hear this sound. Non-Diegetic sound is "audience-facing" — only the audience hears it, but it is still an integral part of the story.

Not all Dialogue and Music Tropes directly relate to diegesis, as sounds can, in different situations, be either non/diegetic or both. Listed below are tropes for which diegetic status is integrally important to meaning.

When a works creator makes use of a sounds restrictions or lack thereof, it has various creative purposes. There are different levels of characterisation, of story development, and of juxtapositional relationships that can be influenced by where sound originates and where it goes. And sometimes, it's just for humour.

See also: Sound FX Tropes, Score and Music Tropes

This is an Omnipresent Trope, which means that you could say "Work X uses Audio Diegesis in this way for this purpose", but you should use the more appropriate trope below.

Tropes dealing with diegetic sound:

Tropes dealing with non-diegetic sound:

  • Background Music: The pieces of music underscoring a work, for the benefit of the audience.
  • Establishing Character Music: A backing track to a character's introduction that aligns with their personality.
  • Kung-Foley: Serious action sequences using hyper-exagerrated sound effects.
  • Laugh Track: A standard snippet overlaid on sitcoms in post-production to (subconsciously) tell the audience when to laugh. On occasion it can be played for humour as being diegetic in a cut-away gag.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: A work without a soundtrack, often promoting realism.
  • Silent Credits: Credits sequences with no sound.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: Censoring diegetic sounds, usually dialogue that's considered unsavoury, with an audible tone. Can be played as diegetic for humour.

There are also times when the diegetic barrier is crossed, there are tropes that deal with this:

  • Diegetic Switch: A piece of music plays within the work and then transitions to the soundtrack.
  • Flashback... Back... Back...: When diegetic sound is echoed into non-diegesis to represent a flashback.
  • In-Universe Soundtrack: All or many of the soundtrack pieces (i.e. background music) are also being played from within the work.
  • Left the Background Music On: Some sounds that appear to be non-diegetic (sound effects, background music) are afterwards revealed to be played within the work, Breaking the Fourth Wall.
  • Mickey Mousing: The action on screen is represented by sound effects. In cartoons, the character's actions are often making the sounds.
  • Music Video Syndrome: A music video using cinematography and editing to match the beat of the visual with the beat of the audio.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Varying levels of diegetic continuity regarding songs within Musical works.
  • Opening Narration: When a character from within a work delivers a speech or form of exposition to the audience.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: A loud in-universe sound covering up an important line of dialogue so that both the characters and audience cannot hear it.
  • Sound Shift Reverb: When sound moves from In-Universe to non-diegetic it becomes clearer.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: When a work's theme tune (in instances when the theme was created for the work) appears within the universe of the work.
  • Transition Track: A piece of music introduced at the end of a scene deliberately to bleed into the next, not existing within the work during the previous scene and edit.
  • Virtual Soundtrack: When a written work, often fanfic, has a character listen to or describe music in a way that suggests the reader do the same, to create a soundtrack effect for the story.
  • Written Sound Effect: Sounds produced by in-universe actions, in written media, being represented by onomatopoeia for the reader.


Feedback: 69 replies

Jan 6th 2015 at 5:23:00 PM

I believe you mean "In Universe voice" and "Out Of Universe voice".

Jan 6th 2015 at 5:40:22 PM

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic are the actual film terms particular to sound, not trope usage in general.. It refers to voices, sound effectsm and music, Playing with it is part of filmmaking fundamentals.

Jan 6th 2015 at 6:45:47 PM

Omnipresent Trope no examples needed.

I mean, what movie or show doesn't have both diegetic and non diegetic sound? Only exceptions might be interesting if you could find an example with absolutely no non-diegetic sounds. By default most silent movies are completely non-diegetic, with Silent Movie being an exception in a Played For Laughs scene.

Jan 6th 2015 at 9:02:22 PM

Can someone please do something to kill the Red Link there?

Changes made based on suggestions above.

^^^ Film techniques are still tropes. Gilligan Cut, Establishing Shot, Vertigo Zoom, they're all ways of using a camera, and we consider them tropes.

Of course, Audio Diegesis appears in Literature also; anything that isn't dialogue or sound made by a story element is inherently non-diegetic (despite there being no actual sound made, except for the paper ruffling of page turning... hmmm, would that be diegetic or non-diegetic?)

Also as Daefaroth aptly said, this is an omnipresent trope - just because it appears everywhere doesn't mean it's not a trope.

Jan 7th 2015 at 1:00:31 AM

^^ This does sound more as Useful Notes though.

Jan 7th 2015 at 3:06:03 AM

^^ Thanks for that.

^ I disagree. It's too narrow a topic to warrant a useful notes page.

Jan 7th 2015 at 5:49:38 AM

Useful Notes is for Real Life stuff primarily. This is a narrative convention.

Jan 7th 2015 at 9:04:02 AM

^^^ If Establishing Shot is recognized, then no reason why this shouldnt be. i support it.

youd have to make the argument that Establishing Shot and things like it need to be changed into Useful Notes too.

Jan 7th 2015 at 10:49:16 AM

^ There is an argument for that - I can see there being a "Useful Notes - Film Technique" page which would address tropes like that. But yeah, specific techniques which are used as tropes, they get their own trope page.

Jan 7th 2015 at 10:51:00 AM

So, what is missing from this?

Jan 7th 2015 at 10:51:59 AM

I think this is a good page to have. Diegetic and Nondiegetic should be redirects.

Jan 7th 2015 at 10:56:49 AM

^ No, audio is not the only thing that can be Diegetic.

Jan 7th 2015 at 1:39:12 PM

^ but then that'll fall into In Universe.

Jan 7th 2015 at 1:41:26 PM

Colloquially Diegetic is known to refer to sound. You typically have to indicate if youre using to refer to something else.

Either way this thread is already called Audio Diegesis so....

Jan 7th 2015 at 2:24:42 PM

I added the Description Needs Help tag.

The basic points are there and clear enough to be understood, but it's missing a lot. Needs some sprucing up.

Any suggestions? I was thinking of compiling a couple of lists of audio tropes (is there an index for that? Potholing for test: Sound Tropes, Audio Tropes), separating them based on whether they're diegetic or not.

^ I've never heard "Colloquially Diegetic" before, but if it's a generally accepted term, I'm down for a name change.

Edit: Make that THREE lists - one for diegetic, one for non-diegetic, one for blurred lines (Diegetic Switch, Interactive Narrator).

Edit2: Also, if there IS an existing index for sound tropes, I don't know it - could someone point me to it, or set up redirects to the red links in this comment?

Jan 7th 2015 at 4:05:53 PM

Clarification: I meant in a colloquial manner of speaking the term Diegetic is known to refer to sound.

As in diegetic without context defaults to sound. You have to emphasize if its not sound based.

Jan 7th 2015 at 4:09:57 PM

Interesting. I was unaware of the connotations.

Jan 7th 2015 at 4:39:55 PM

^ I'm guessing acrobox is a fellow film student. We got taught that stuff. I am aware of the implication that "Diegetic" on it's own refers to sound, but as you said, other things can be Diegetic and not all tropers are film students. So specifying Audio is better for everyone.

Guessing there is no Sound Tropes index... We should really have one of those.

To that end, anyone feel like mining Sound FX Tropes for good examples for the lists? I'm gonna go ahead and start compiling.

Jan 7th 2015 at 4:51:51 PM

^ Definitely a sound trope, but... I actually have no idea how to classify it...

On the one hand, the action in the story produces the sound, which makes it diegetic - on the other, the action does not produce the sound it normally would, with the chords and music acting as a replacement, which makes it non-diegetic... Mixed?

Jan 7th 2015 at 6:13:07 PM

Most of Mickey Mousing is parallel to the actions.

Jan 7th 2015 at 6:30:41 PM

Virtually all works except silent movies will have diegetic and non-diegetic sound. People Sit On Chairs.

The only possible trope I see here is a film that is all diegetic, that is, lacks any musical score.

Jan 7th 2015 at 8:10:42 PM

^ it is a narrative convention and an Omnipresent Trope, so this ain't chairs.

Btw we have a ykttw for works with all-diegetic sound.

Jan 7th 2015 at 9:57:52 PM

^You are proposing that the existence of sound is a trope. This is in fact chairs.

Now that YKTTW about all-diegetic works, that's something worthy of bumping and expanding.

Jan 7th 2015 at 10:57:09 PM

^ Characters is an Omnipresent Trope. Shouldn't the existence of people be Chairs? How about the existence of places and time periods? Settings Things happening? Plot

Just because something is completely common or even required as part of work for the work to even exist doesn't make it Not A Trope. Chairs means there is no narrative meaning for the particular item. Sound in a work has narrative meaning. As I have stated, I feel this is an Omnipresent Trope, which basically boils down to somewhere between Useful Notes and a list of subtropes.

Jan 8th 2015 at 2:38:38 PM

^ Nicely put.

Where audio comes from is crucial to a work. That in itself nullifies chairs.

Moving on: examples?

Jan 8th 2015 at 2:41:43 PM

Is there a trope for the "pew pew" sound that beam weapons make? That's diegetic for sure.

Jan 8th 2015 at 3:49:05 PM

So is this an index, then? Because it looks like an index of sound tropes, sorted by whether they're diegetic or not.

Jan 9th 2015 at 1:11:59 AM

^ Settings looks like an index of settings tropes sorted into lists according to Location and Time Period. Characters looks like a index of archetypes sorted according to male, female, good, evil, etc. It's par for the course for Omnipresent Tropes, dude. Get over it.

Jan 9th 2015 at 9:51:32 AM

^^ I will get over or not get over what I choose, thank you very much, and I'll post what I want too. What I am pointing out is that what you have created is an index of sound tropes.

And we already have Music And Sound Effects.

Jan 9th 2015 at 3:07:19 PM

^^ Diegetic. The sounds are made by objects within the narrative. Enhanced, maybe - but still pairable to a story element.

^ Your objections have been noted, and the majority disagrees with you.

And Music And Sound Effects does not cover this.

Jan 9th 2015 at 3:17:51 PM

"Your objections have been noted, and the majority disagrees with you."

We had a crowner, then, that I missed? What was the vote total?

Once again, this is doing nothing more than taking the tropes listed in Music And Sound Effects and sorting them as to whether they're diegetic or not. Which might actually have some value, but if this actually get launched I'd recommend that it have index tags and be classed as such.

Jan 9th 2015 at 5:09:32 PM

^ some tropes in that index are about tropes pertaining to the music/sound itself rather than how it's diegetic or not.

Jan 10th 2015 at 6:06:54 AM

How do we set up crowner? I want to settle this.

Jan 10th 2015 at 9:38:32 AM

do we need a crowner? I think the majority of people on this thread agree that its a trope

side note: I'd argue that audible gleam is in mixed rather than diegetic. It's like Mickey Mousing. It may or may not be 'heard' by the characters, but the sound is produced by and mapped to something in-universe.

Jan 10th 2015 at 11:34:59 AM

^ That's an interesting assertion. I'm not sure though; it's diegetic if the glare itself is what makes the sound - but like Scare Chord, it's there to amplify or signify the effect. I'll think on that one.

And I agree about tropeability. But jamespolk won't be satisfied until we do one. And its true that a majority on this thread agree (you, me, DAN, Daefaroth, crazysamaritan, troacctid); so it will most likely confirm what we already think.

Jan 10th 2015 at 11:59:21 AM

^ I don't care if you have a crowner or not, and you certainly don't need to make one on my account. What I took issue with was the bald assertion on your part that "the majority" agree with you when there is no evidence to that effect.

Anyway, all this is, is a list of sound tropes. It does not impart any information that a Useful Notes article on the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic effects couldn't impart. But launch away, if you can get three more hats.

Jan 11th 2015 at 8:28:33 PM

It's not ready to launch. More explanation about the different uses of D and non-D audio and more trope examples needed.

Sep 9th 2016 at 4:41:11 PM

What's the point of this trope?

Sep 9th 2016 at 6:40:36 PM

^ it's more of an index, if anything

Unsound Effect is often non-diegetic.

Sep 10th 2016 at 2:43:10 AM

How is Mickey Mousing a Mixed Diegesis? It should fall under the same category as Scare Chord (Non-Diegetic).

Sep 10th 2016 at 3:49:41 AM

^ Because unlike scare chord, which the character's don't actually hear, Micky Mousing is implied to be sounds coming from objects within the story.

^^^ Omnipresent Trope. Like Plot and Settings. This proposal is over 2 years old, and that discussion has well and truly been had.

If anything, I'd suggest splitting this into three pages, one for D, one for non-D and one for mixed, and treat them like indexes in relation to each other.

Sep 10th 2016 at 8:51:02 PM

Medium Awareness refers to the distinction in second paragraph.

Nov 12th 2017 at 6:23:31 PM

This needs work, can I edit?

Nov 14th 2017 at 3:48:31 AM

^ If you're asking if this is Up For Grabs, the answer is no. The OP ginsengaddict edited this on November 11th, three days ago.

If you're asking if you can edit the proposal: yes, the same way you'd edit a trope page. Correcting errors is fine, changing the nature of the proposal isn't.

Nov 14th 2017 at 6:28:11 AM

^^ What do you have in mind? I'm open to suggestions.

Nov 14th 2017 at 7:34:48 PM

Hey, whats the trope for that "bleep" sound they use to censor expletives? Also, where does Record Scratch fit?

Nov 14th 2017 at 7:44:08 PM

Cluster Bleep Bomb?

And, like, any sound can be non-diegetic so I was going to maybe reorganize it. And some other technical stuff, like make a bit about the cinematic effects of diegesis there's tropes for (Interscene Diegesis, etc.)

Nov 14th 2017 at 7:44:08 PM

Cluster Bleep Bomb?

And, like, any sound can be non-diegetic so I was going to maybe reorganize it. And some other technical stuff, like make a bit about the cinematic effects of diegesis there's tropes for (Interscene Diegesis, etc.)

Nov 14th 2017 at 7:44:08 PM

Cluster Bleep Bomb?

And, like, any sound can be non-diegetic so I was going to maybe reorganize it. And some other technical stuff, like make a bit about the cinematic effects of diegesis there's tropes for (Interscene Diegesis, etc.)

Nov 14th 2017 at 7:45:20 PM

or Sound Effect Bleep... and obviously I didn't mean to comment three times, the glitch lives on

Nov 14th 2017 at 7:47:10 PM

Oh! The last bit of the definition of non-diegetic bugs me: a lot of the time the sounds really are linked with the action. Simpler definitions would be better. I'd also add something that might get lengthy about Reality Has No Soundtrack

Nov 14th 2017 at 11:04:07 PM

Interesting. Wanna have a go at drafting the description you have in mind in the comment? I'm curious.

Nov 30th 2017 at 6:54:22 PM

okay, I'd probably give Dialogue it's own section. Typically diegetic, but then you have Exposition and narration.

Most Sound Effects can be either diegetic or not, depending on what's happening. The filmmaker might just want to give sounds to the audience. We also don't need to copy over the list from Sound Effects, so really the diegetic list you have should be scrapped.

Nov 30th 2017 at 8:26:01 PM

This is interesting and I agree that it's definitely trope-able.

I would like some elaboration on the bit that goes "naturally, all works have sound (even books)." While quite true if one thinks about it, saying that books have sound is unintuitive enough that I think it'd be nice to have an extra sentence expanding on this statement.

As an aside, is it possible for a book to have non-diegetic sound? I can imagine, perhaps, a writer with a style similar to Terry Pratchett's or Douglas Adams' having an aside directly to the audience, saying something like "if the reader were witnessing this scene, they might imagine hearing such-and-such a type of music swelling in the background" or something like that; could there be other ways to have a non-diegetic sound in a book? Could something like the sound the book itself makes, e.g. the rustling of pages or the creaking of the cover, be considered non-diegetic sound, in that it might contribute to the overall "feel" or "atmosphere" the reader experiences?

Dec 1st 2017 at 1:57:14 AM

@girlyboy: That question about fourth-wall breaking in books sounds like Lemony Narrator.

Dec 19th 2017 at 8:35:25 AM

Would this serve better as an index (of course one with a hefty dump of useful notes at the top) for tropes dealing with diegesis, as obviously having sound is omnipresent.

Jan 9th 2018 at 4:45:06 AM

I think this is now technically Up For Grabs, since it hasn't been edited since November. I'll grab it if so.

Jan 9th 2018 at 7:29:20 AM

I don't think this can really be exampled...

Jan 9th 2018 at 10:02:48 AM

re-formatted the list so that it's not encroaching on things we have a trope/index for already

Jan 9th 2018 at 1:14:12 PM

Title: Diegesis or Audio Diegesis?

Jan 9th 2018 at 1:47:05 PM

^^ Nice work! I like what you've done with it.

^ We had this discussion a few years ago, somewhere up the thread. Audio is the concept most often associated with diegesis, but it's not the only thing that can have diegetic or non-diegetic qualities. So having "Audio" in the title removes any ambiguity there.

Jan 9th 2018 at 2:09:33 PM

Fixed a few grammar bugs.

^ Got enough hats and certainly been around long enough. I vote for liftoff; anyone else?

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