I would be a songwriter if…

…songs were ninety-thousand words long.

I love music, I always have.  One of my chief sorrows is that I am incapable of writing a single word with music playing in the background.  Since writing is what I do most days, the part of me that loves music passionately often feels glum and out of sorts, so I’ve taken to fiddling with my music library every time I take a break—which I believe is making me a better writer.

I’ve found that, unless I’m thoroughly caught up with a character or a scene, I trend towards the wordy.  I don’t know if that’s true for other writers, but it’s as if my conscious mind takes over whenever my subconscious mind loses its train of thought, and all of a sudden precision grammar and linguistics start dripping from my fingers.  Not inherently bad, of course, but when I’m writing dialog, it can come across as pedantic and stilted.  My remedy: force myself to think–and write–like a songwriter.  If my words are coming across as plodding, how would a songwriter do it?  How would they achieve the mood I’m striving for?

I know that most writers use soundtracks as writing tools, but I’ve taken to digging for songs that match the mood of a particular scene—be it plaintive, exuberant, tender, or whatever.  When I start getting too wordy, or casting around for something to say, I look for a song that captures either the pace or sentiment of what I’m trying to convey.  Is this a scene where I need to be sparse?  Should the words be coming staccato, like gunfire, or slow and evocative, like a dream?  I’ve found that trying to match the mood of a song is a great way to force myself out of my own head and into my character’s.  I get very tired of hearing my own words coming out of my characters’s mouths.  Better I allow them to speak for themselves.

Another trick I’ve started using is envisioning my characters singing karaoke: while alone, while gazing into a lover’s eyes, or even atop a teetering table at a toga party.  It makes no difference how much musical talent they have (or how much I’ve given them!), all that matters is the song they choose to sing, and the words they choose to say.  That tells me how they’re feeling right that moment.   Once I give them a chance to “speak” for themselves, I have a much better grasp of where I need to go, and an easier time writing the scene—not to mention I’ve gotten to listen to a bunch of great songs while searching for the perfect one.  My idea of a win-win.

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1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “I would be a songwriter if…

  1. Wow, Finn, this is terrific. It’s something I’ve been floundering with on many scenes. I, like you, love music but usually write in silence in order to be in the scene and listen to the characters. But, it sometimes feels ‘manufactured’ instead of authentic. Interestingly (to me) I was writing a love scene once and happen to be listening to Barber’s Adagio–man did the dialogue just flow, it was beautiful.
    Okay, well…thanks.

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