Posted On October 31, 2012 by Print This Post

The Rhythm of Language with Cari Quinn

If music be the food of love, play on. William Shakespeare-Twelfth Night

What is it about a song that makes you happy or verklempt? Today, Cari Quinn talks about the parallels between song writing and writing. 

Welcome, Cari!  

Thank you so much to Romance University for allowing me to visit today – on Halloween, my favorite holiday! 

When I sat down to try to come up with a topic for this blog post, the first idea that came to mind was that I should write about something having to do with music. Long before I wanted to become a writer, my dream was to be a singer. Even as a young child, I loved being on stage. My first solo piece as a singer came in kindergarten, where I got to sing the song The Lollipop Tree. Back then, I didn’t have a clue what stage fright was or that maybe one day other dreams would loom as large for me as that desire to be in the spotlight. There was only the music. Only the songs that I could lose myself in, even before I had a reason to try to disappear into something beyond my own reality.

Throughout my elementary school years, I wholeheartedly pursued my dream of singing. I would’ve stayed in my choir class twenty-four/seven if I could. But in time, I started to realize that maybe my personality wasn’t the best fit for living life on the road, as many singers do. I still loved music with a passion I’ve never loved anything else—to this day—but that didn’t mean it would end up being my career. And once I’d nursed a broken heart over that fact, as bad as I would for any love affair, I fell in love again: with writing.

But if you think about it, the two aren’t that dissimilar. My favorite songs are “story” songs, and I’d like to share some of my favorite examples today. I think writers can learn a lot about saying a lot in few words from the best of those songwriters, as well as about nuance and subtlety and using metaphors.

I also think that considering a novel’s tone and theme comes down to the rhythm all writers infuse in their work, often without being aware of it.

A fellow writer mentioned after reading my first book that my story had a rhythm to the storytelling she’d never seen in another book before. That remains one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten, even if it’s not something I can duplicate or even explain!

I’ve always been conscious of how things “sound” when I write and how they look on the page. For instance, using shorter sentences and paragraphs for more immediate impact, longer when you’re trying to lure a reader into a more relaxed state. I tend to write fragmented sentences at times, despite the shrieks from my inner editor (and sometimes outer!) because of the rhythm of how the sentences sound when you read them aloud. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it—and if you listen to the two songs I’ve included below, I think you’ll understand what I mean.

The first song I’d like to share is, to me, the quintessential story song and one that never fails to make me tear up. It’s not a sad song—far from it. But this piece is the kind that a songwriter dreams of one day writing, because it’s the foundation for a career. And it truly was in this case, for one of our time’s greatest songwriters: Billy Joel. The song? Piano Man.

Piano Man is the kind of song where there is a wealth of description in every line. “9’clock on a Saturday and the regular crowd shuffles in.” Okay, sounds usual, right? But with just that word “shuffles” I can see it. The resigned dejection, the buried hope. “There’s an old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin.” One of my favorite lines—so much is said in so few words. And then my favorite line of all from this song, “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.”

So powerful. I’ve heard this song thousands of times and I’m impressed with it every single time. And for those of us who think we can’t get a story told in 15K words or some other arbitrary limit, take a look at this song. They’re all vignettes, but the overall picture is as vivid as a painting.

And then there is “Begin Again” from Taylor Swift. Even though I don’t always love her songs, I am endlessly impressed with the quality of her storytelling. She’s got that same intrinsic style as Billy Joel—that understanding of nuance and metaphor, and that ability to craft a distinct image that transcends the words it’s created with. My favorite line in this one: “Thinking all love ever does
is break and burn and end, but on a Wednesday in a café I watched it begin again.”

I hope this post has inspired you to think about some of your favorite songs, and even perhaps why they’ve touched you so much. Is there anything you can take away from them to help you with your own writing? Even if you don’t think so, spend some time marinating your senses in the music that speaks to you…and see what emerges in your self-conscious and on the page.


Cari is offering an ebook copy of NO DRESS REQUIRED, the novella that kicks off her Love Required series at Entangled Publishing, to two randomly chosen commenters who answer one or both of these questions:

How important is music in your life? Do you have a favorite song that speaks to you the most?


On Friday, November 2nd, Handsome Hansel presents: Empathy-Where Characters Are Born. 


Bio: USA Today bestselling author Cari Quinn wrote her first story—a bible parable—in 2nd grade, much to the delight of the nuns at her Catholic school. Once she saw the warm reception that first tale garnered, she was hooked. She attempted her first romance in junior high, long before she’d ever read one. Writing what she knew always took a backseat to what she wanted to know, and that still holds true today.

Though she also fires up her computer as a graphic designer, proofreader and editor, she can’t resist the lure of disappearing into a world of her own creation. Now she gets to pen sexy romances for a living and routinely counts her lucky stars. The only thing she loves more than writing is hearing from readers! Visit Cari at

Read an excerpt from NO FLOWERS REQUIRED, book 2 of Cari’s Love Required series.   

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17 Responses to “The Rhythm of Language with Cari Quinn”

  1. Hi Cari,

    Bruce Springsteen does the best story songs. I listen to music when I write, mostly the classics like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. I love a romantic ballad.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | October 31, 2012, 8:39 am
  2. Morning Cari!

    I admit to being one of those people who cannot listen to music while writing. I don’t even have speakers on my computer! =) I do listen to music in the car however, and of course American Pie by Don McLean is a classic. I also love love love listening to Michael Buble’….=)

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 31, 2012, 9:00 am
  3. Hi Cari! I’m reading No Flowers Required right now (which I shamelessly admit I wanted to read after you mentioned the rooftop scene on another blog). You do have a very unusual voice which I LOVE – I’m fascinated that you attribute that to music. I’ve always been a casual singer and listen to music of all varieties. I wish I could figure out how to translate that onto the page! The best I’ve been able to do is use a song as inspiration for a story…

    As for a favorite song – Everlong by the Foo Fighters. It’s romance from the male POV and it’s very well expressed.

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | October 31, 2012, 9:19 am
  4. Great post, Cari! I’ve often thought about the skill required to condense a story into a three-minute song. “Eleanor Rigby” comes to mind – “Hotel California” is another song that packs a lot of story into a small number of words. And Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be.” It’s odd that I can’t think of any songwriters who also write books – you’d think there would be some crossover!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 31, 2012, 12:27 pm
  5. OMGoodness! Your story of choir and how you always were drawn to ‘story’ songs could have been stolen from my own life story. I also left behind a dream of singing for a living. But I love telling stories whether from a mic and stage or to one of my little ones on my lap or typing away on the computer. Thanks for sharing. I love many Taylor Swift songs. But when I write, I have to have wordless music. (Otherwise I’m too distracted.)My current faves are The Piano Guys and TwoCellos.

    Posted by Amelia | October 31, 2012, 12:28 pm
  6. Thanks for sharing Cari! I love a good story through song as well. Some of my favorites are by “The Killers”. They are very big on telling stories through their music; in fact, they have a song trilogy that played out over two records. It’s fascinating and never fails to evoke a response in me. Their latest song “Runaways” makes me cry every time I hear it!

    Posted by Caroline | October 31, 2012, 1:13 pm
  7. Hi everyone! Thanks so much to Romance University for having me here today and to all of you for stopping by!

    I love some of the artists mentioned here – especially The Killers, Caroline. They’re one of my favorite groups. Goodnight, Travel Well is such a haunting song.

    And Bruce Springsteen, Mary Jo…talk about an incredible songwriter. You can’t find many better than the Boss, that’s for sure!

    Carrie, Michael Buble…ah, what a crooner. Lost is my favorite of his. I want to go listen to it right now!

    Amelia, so glad you can relate to my story! I’ve heard from several people who were like us, singers who ended up eventually writing. Of course, some people manage to do both!

    Becke, both songs you mentioned are on my favorites list as well. The Eagles are amazing songwriters. Ah-mazing. Can you tell they’re my favorite group? LOL I could practically sing backup for them on tour.

    Kat, thank you so much for giving No Flowers Required a try! I’m flattered that you think I have an unusual voice. I think it’s hard to see that in your own work, but it’s lovely to hear. 🙂 I’m adding that Foo Fighters song to my playlist to check out. Romance from the male POV? Sign me up!

    I’m adding other artists mentioned to my list. I love finding new music!

    I’ll be back a little later, everyone. Thanks so much for a fun discussion and happy Halloween if you celebrate! 🙂

    Posted by Cari Quinn | October 31, 2012, 1:56 pm
  8. Hi Cari!

    I listen to old standards and movie soundtracks when I write. I’ve got too many favorite songs to list, but I’m partial to the songs that Sinatra and Bennett made famous.

    You made an important point about how words sound on a page. That gets forgotten when we’re so intent on churning out the story.

    Thanks so much for blogging with us today.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | October 31, 2012, 1:58 pm
  9. Cari – sorry for being late – I had connectivity issues b/c of the storm.

    I always have playlists for my books and the songs all have bits and pieces of their story that corresponds to the story I am telling. A singer as well (the road was also not for me) I have to have music to inspire me.

    My fave songwriters/artists who tell great stories – Missy Higgins, Matt Nathanson and Lady A

    Posted by Robin Covington | October 31, 2012, 6:03 pm
  10. Hi Jennifer and Robin!

    Jennifer, thinking about how words sound on the page is something I forget too. But often when I’m reading my Kindle, I sort of read aloud in my head. I don’t know if other people do that. When someone hits the beats right, I do notice. Of course that too is subjective. My right could be someone else’s wrong! But I think that’s one of the great parts of reading. What’s on the page is just the beginning – it’s what the reader takes from it that tells the story.

    Robin, I’ve heard you mention your background in singing and I’m glad to hear from someone else who needs music to for inspiration. The books I’ve written that are my favorites all have the longest soundtracks, and I think that’s because the more real they become to me, the more music I find that fits into their world.

    Thanks again to all for visiting with me and talking music! 🙂

    Posted by Cari Quinn | October 31, 2012, 8:10 pm
  11. And to Robin and everyone else affected by Sandy, hope you and yours are all safe. My best wishes go out to all those who were in the path of the storm.

    Posted by Cari Quinn | October 31, 2012, 8:12 pm
  12. I love the song you choose, I got goosebumps listening to them…

    Posted by MC Houle | November 1, 2012, 7:20 am
  13. I’m a huge fan of music. On my blog about storytelling I celebrate singer/songwriters as much as I do authors. Funny you mentioned Taylor Swift, she’s on deck for a future post because I think she’s a brilliant storyteller.

    Right now the singer/songwriter I am most impressed with is Sara Bareilles. The song of hers I think speaks most to her storytelling ability is “Gravity”. Not only is it a beautiful song enhanced by her gorgeous vocals, but it creates a mood and tells a story that engages listeners. Love it!

    Posted by Roxanne | November 1, 2012, 7:24 am
  14. The power of a few words woven delicately together, painting a simple picture of longing, hope, or despair connected to a haunting piece of music sucks me in every time!
     My current obsession,
     “Oh you’re in my veins, and  I cannot get you out”  by Andrew Belle, “In My Veins” 

    My lifetime addiction, 
    “Will you stay with me, will you be my love
    Among the fields of barley
    We’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
    As we lie in the fields of gold”
    By Sting, “Fields of Gold”

    And for my maudlin moments 
    “So often we long to steal
    To the land of what-might-have-been
    But that doesn’t soften the ache we feel
    When reality sets back in”
    Stephen Schwartz, Wicked- I’m Not that Girl

    I would like to say the words of the great storytelling song writers have made me a better writer, however, I am not certain. I do know that they inspire me to reach for extraordinary rather than ordinary!

    Posted by Judi | November 2, 2012, 2:19 am
  15. Hi Cari, Music has always been important to me. I love a well-crafted lyric and there are many music poets out there that can make you feel like they are speaking directly to you or your experience. Hard for me to pick any one in particular, since who I am listening to often depends on my mood, and what I’m working on. I don’t like to listen to music while I write, but usually find the perfect music to inspire a scene and listen to that before I sit at the computer. As I work on my NaNoWriMo story, I’m listening to Little Hurricane and Saving Abel.

    And I love when I’m reading something that has a definite cadence to the words. That’s where the melody of a song comes it. It makes a difference!

    Great post! Thanks!

    Posted by tradermare | November 2, 2012, 8:42 am
  16. Hi all, thanks for stopping by! I love that so many of you are touched by music as I am!

    MC Houle, glad you enjoyed them!

    Roxanne, Sara Bareilles is one of my favorites too. She’s amazing!

    Judi, wow, what amazing lyrics you chose. There’s so much poetry in the world, sometimes it’s just a matter of tuning in.

    Tradermare, I’m the same as you in that what music I enjoy most depends on my mood. But Saving Abel has definitely been on a few of my playlists!

    Thanks again to all of you for visiting! It’s been so fun to talk about one of my favorite subjects. 🙂

    Posted by Cari Quinn | November 2, 2012, 7:46 pm
  17. So sorry for the delay in posting the winners, but Mary Jo and Caroline, you’ve won an ebook copy of NO DRESS REQUIRED. Check your email. 🙂

    Thanks so much to everyone for visiting and to Robin for allowing me to blog here! Happy holidays!

    Posted by Cari Quinn | December 27, 2012, 7:50 pm

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