Living with a writer, I witness first hand the crafting of stories. The process brings to mind how I craft a song and the similarities that can be found between the two arts. A tempo, or timing, starts in my head. Sometimes, it is upbeat or a unique expression on a break. Sometimes, just simple and melodic works best. I notice the presence of a tempo in my wife’s stories, and I ask myself, “How does the story move me? Is it leading me in an obvious direction? Is it toying with my curiosity? Am I on a freight train I cannot stop? Would I want to?”
I have played guitar since I was nine. After a few years of playing, I learned how to read and write music and started to write my own modest songs. I continued to read and write music for each new instrument that I learned. As I composed songs, I was able to hear the instruments, differentiate between them, and bring them into the composition as needed. However, I was not a lyricist.
My wife Lisa Lynn Biggar and I met through music. I had plenty of music written, and she had been writing poetry, stories, and lyrics. We saw the potential in a partnership of my music and her lyrics, and over the years we have written many songs together. She still pursued her writing career, and now her story writing has become more of a creative outlet for her. I still find enjoyment playing my various instruments, particularly guitar on our back porch, and we both enjoy playing songs together now and then.
If you think of any rock-and-roll song, you know when it starts, and you know what the basic structure will be. Now think of a piece of classical music that is slightly more complicated. You are not quite sure where it is going to take you, but there is a lot going on with all the instruments. And there is potential. I always enjoy songs that highlight the various instruments used. Think of the songs from the band Chicago from the Seventies. A lot of horns and guitars. They would craft their songs to showcase each instrument, to give it time up front on its own. This works with characters in a story, as well. Each character has his or her own unique voice but still plays a part in the whole melody. Each instrument is like a character. They all have their own voices to be heard.
Sometimes within the first paragraph of a story, everyone is in the mix. At other times, the characters are introduced to us gradually. In this same way, I keep listeners engaged in the interesting developments of a song. The introduction of a unique instrument for a brief arpeggio, a harmony with another instrument, or a change in timing to add a blues or folk element are just two examples of how I keep the attention. I regularly find this when reading a story. A plot twist brings new dimension. A brief and one-time appearance by a character has the power to alter the perception of the entire read.
Something else that I find in song and see often in print is the build-up. The build-up to the solo or pivotal moment is significant. In a story, this is usually when one or more characters attempt to gain control. The pivotal moment could be a revelation or when a certain motive is revealed to be the driving force behind the whole thing all along. It is the work of that freight train driving the tempo home. And I would not want to stop that.
Online Editor’s Note: Don’s wife Lisa’s short story “Mediation” appears in our Winter 2013 Doubt issue. You can view a video of her reading the story by clicking on this link.
5 thoughts on “On Music and Writing”
Thanks for another informative blog. Where else could I get that type of info written in such a perfect way? I have a project that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such information.
Thanks so much for the kind words, and very glad it helped! Don
Don, this thought jumped out at me: “The pivotal moment could be a revelation or when a certain motive is revealed to be the driving force behind the whole thing all along.” I think the same is true in any good piece of writing. Music is a short-hand, or an added layer, toward creating the tone of a piece. Great post!
So true Laura. Like building a foundation strong enough to add many layers, then just let the reader/listener peel them away. Thanks!
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