Hey all. Xero here, coffee’s ready, and my work music playlist is good to go for when I need to hunker down. And that’s what I want to talk about today- music. Specifically, the music in writing.
That’s music in writing, not writing music. Sorry music majors, but I’ve not been able to read the staff for years. If you can do it, you’re a damned wizard in my eyes. Go with the blessings of Valar, graybeards.
Maiar are such drama queens. Anyway, I’m gonna clue you in on another concept to help you out when writing. Consider the MUSIC in writing. I know, I know, it sounds really weird, but trust me. You’re gonna want to try this out. It’s a good habit to get into because it gets you thinking more about how you go about putting prose together. Hell, it might even spice up your average bout of texting.
There really are a lot of musical concepts that can be applied to writing. Tempo, the emotion of a key change, and switching up the rhythm can all be used to influence how your reader moves through your work.
Remember: creative writing is manipulating your reader’s agency, which is a fancier way of saying you’re the puppet master, and you want them to dance around for your amusement. Yes! Pull the string!
Maybe not that nefarious, but still.
So how do you go about accomplishing that? A bit of forethought. Let’s start with something simple: how you go about phrasing.
Yeah, no. Well, maybe. But not for today. Let’s just try formulating a simple concept. Let’s tell your reader about this creepy corridor that your character is trotting down. Which strikes a better emotional note for you?
“The hallway was creepy, dark, went on and on without anywhere to turn, and there was no end was in sight.”
“The corridor stretched on into the eerie gloom, its oppressive walls seemingly without any turnings, without any endings.”
I just gave you the exact same information, really, but with just a few tweaks of word choice and pacing the description is transformed. Call it “prose orchestration”. I changed up the music to get my point across in a more satisfying way.
Not enough? Okay. Think thoroughly on the titillating trill of adroitly applied alliteration. Or perhaps flow? Think of those longer, lazy passages winding through your subconscious placidly like a sinuous river taking its sweet time through the wilderness. Until it hits the rapids. The rush. The buildup of momentum. Froth and foam. Perhaps then there is a moment to pause, and breathe, and reflect on what just happened at the climax of that ride. Unless we are heading for narrative falls . . .
Mind, that last paragraph does some double-duty with the orchestration. But that’s exactly my point. Changing sentence length, word choice, and pacing just in the same paragraph gives you fine-tuned control over the emotion and presentation you’re trying to drill into the reader’s head. Just one paragraph. Now imagine that over an entire story.
I know, right? Rad.
But there’s also some mathematics thrown in there, which is only fair as math and music share a spine when you get right down to it. Decisions were made as I was writing to play with syllable count to evoke descriptions and plant a little seed in your braincase. Math in MY writing? It’s more likely than you think.
In point of fact this whole phrase was written using the old Fibonacci sequence to control the sentence’s final syllable count.
Feel free to test it. I’ll wait. I need more coffee, anyway.
Okay, I’m back at the keyboard. That’s the power of subjective time travel. In any case, I hope you’re cottoning on to the inherent power of applying music concepts to your writing to get greater results. But let me leave you today with some final concepts that can be used.
Let’s talk simplicity of phrase. Weird, I know, given the example I used earlier, but it bears exploration. Not every passage has to make like Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte to get the most bang for the buck. Sometimes, like a killer guitar riff, keeping it simple makes it shockingly more potent.
The best examples of this are ones you’re probably already familiar with. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” “I am born . . . I grew up.” Hell, even the hackneyed “It was a dark and stormy night” works from the power of simplicity. But for my money, the Tsar Bomba of simple yet powerful lines has to be the opening line from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
That’s the power of simplicity, and that’s one of the many, many choices you can—can, not necessarily have to—make when you’re laying down those words onto that page. Because there’s just as much emotional resonance in something more florid and lengthy, as with the standard story-starters found in The Wheel of Time series or other fantastical yarns.
But that should also clue you in to something you may not really have fully considered: if there’s music to be found in writing, then the first draft really is the exploratory jazz portion. This is where you can play around to your heart’s content. No hard and fast measure constraining your melodies, no metronome penning in your practice.
Writing is music, there’s music in writing, and just as a good orchestration can take you on an emotional journey, you can totally conduct your writing to achieve the exact same thing.
Step up, Maestro. Let’s see what you can do with these players.
Until next time, horns up.