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.
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 www.cariquinn.com
Read an excerpt from NO FLOWERS REQUIRED, book 2 of Cari’s Love Required series.
- “A Night of Southern Comfort” Release Party Giveaway Winners!
- Jo Robertson on Revision with Diction and Syntax
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, June 10-14, 2013
- Release Party for A Night of Southern Comfort by Robin Covington! – Giveaways!
- All You Need Are Words, Right? Wrong! by S.A. Garcia