Monday, January 23, 2017

Music, the Five-Minute Story


Today, I'm going to talk a bit about one of my favorite things to do with storytelling: music! I often write to a soundtrack, or at least compile a soundtrack that inspires me for each book and listen to it before writing. I've learned recently that it goes either way, too, and it's not predictable. Sometimes I have to have the soundtrack on while I write, and others, I need to have silence, and just let the music inspire me, pre-writing. Whatever gets words on the page!

I'm going to give you a couple examples, and I want you to listen to the songs and see if you can pick out the storytelling rhythms within them.  The first is a good one for us romance writers, because the arc is beautifully written in the song, and just as we would tell the story.

Example One: The Love Story

This is "Forbidden Friendship" from the "How to Train Your Dragon" soundtrack. By now, most of you know that this movie is the story of a friendship between a Viking boy and a dragon. Hiccup has been told his whole life that dragons are bad, and along comes Toothless the dragon. The song in this clip goes with the scene in which Hiccup and Toothless begin bonding. It is a love story, a friendship, and the song reflects that. Give it a listen.



Halfway through a romance novel is what we romance authors call "the point of no return" - the point at which the hero and heroine are actively invested in one another in spite of the odds. I'm sure that it's no coincidence that halfway through this song, the tempo picks up, and what was a tentative song becomes fuller and more melodic.  By the last fourth of the song, we have a rich, symphonic tone that shows how wonderful this relationship can be. John Powell knew what he was doing when he wrote this song, and it remains one of my favorite pieces. It's pure magic.

Example Two: The Epic Adventure

This is "Lure of Adventure" from the "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End" video game soundtrack. This song is particularly exciting for me as a storyteller because it's even laid out in three acts, the way most classic stories and plays are done.



In this, we have several of the highlights. Right at the beginning, you hear the whistle indicating the Call to Adventure. Then there's that hesitant tempo, indicating Refusal of the Call. After that, it jumps right into Act II, and the tempo increases. There's a palpable give and take of call and answer, and then we move on to Act III, where the tempo increases yet again. Now, you can sense the hero's forward movement to meet whatever comes. Again, no coincidence, I'm sure. Henry Jackman has composed lots of film music, and it's obvious he's familiar with storytelling.

Using Music to Learn Arc

Music is a wonderful shorthand for getting a story arc laid out correctly. The best songs have that full arc, and even if you don't understand the exact pinpoints, you will sense the rhythm and how a story rises and falls within them. The only difference is, music uses notes and sound, and we writers use words.

If you like to listen to music while you write, pay special attention to the songs you choose and how the rhythm flows up and down to match your scenes. You'll know it matches up when you get that little "thrill" while you're writing. Until then, Happy Reading (or Writing)!

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