My friend Bettie Boswell is joining me today because as a writer of both words and music, she brings an informed view about how the two arts interrelated. Thanks so much for stopping by, Bettie!
Music and the written word have characteristics that are both similar and yet very different: Patterns, rhythms, and lyrical phrases fill music and the written word. Both have meanings that are clear and hidden. Both reach for the listener’s heart and emotions. They move at varying tempos. They both involve pitches but what a difference between the two. Highs and lows move throughout the song and the story but again they have contrasts in meaning. A symphony has distinct sections and so does a story. Picture books may have a recurring refrain and so do many songs.
By popular definition, music is organized sound. The written story consists of organized words. Organization makes the difference between a rambling journal entry and a well-written novel.
Music begins with a BEAT that binds the piece and the performers together. The story has a heartbeat that ties the tale together through either a theme or an outline designed to show changes along a hero’s journey. In writing, the beat can also refer to actions that keep story movement going between conversations in quotes.
RHYTHM adds sparkle to the music by breaking up the constant beat. Rhythm forms patterns that repeat and change. Patterns reveal FORM in the music and make the music memorable and easier to perform. Surprising rhythms are exciting to listen to and make each composition unique. Certain rhythms indicate genre, be it Jazz or Baroque or Rock. When an author pens a story, they will follow certain word rhythms or plot types that will take them into genres such as Young Adult, Picture Book, Mystery, Romance, or Suspense.
PITCH in music makes the music sing as the melody moves through high and low notes. Stories also move through high and low events for the main character. Pitch can strain or relax the musician’s abilities. In the writer’s world, a pitch can be one of the most strenuous events that the author will experience. Will they easily sing out the essence of their story to an editor or agent, or will they over do it and ruin their chance at having their voice (story) heard?
Speaking of voice, in music there are many TIMBRES (tone qualities.) In a symphonic orchestra, a b-flat played on an oboe will sound very different from one played on a tuba or a viola, yet they are in tune with each other. A singer can also perform the same note but he or she will have his or her own unique voice. Authors are encouraged to find their own voice for telling the story in a genuine way. They also need to find special voices for the players making up the orchestra of characters found in their book.
All those voices playing together create HARMONY or dissonance in the music or the story. When things go well there is harmony; when they don’t there is dissonance. Dissonance creates tension in both music and the story. It happens when two voices get too close and create a displeasing sound. Dissonance creates the desire to resolve the sound into something more pleasing. When those two voices give each other a little space, they find harmony and a happy conclusion is the result.
Writing is like being the conductor of an orchestra. The author keeps the beat and rhythm going and knows when to speed up or slow the TEMPO of the story. They know what voices should be part of the story and where to cue the reader that something is about to happen. They lead with quiet or loud words when approaching the DYNAMICS of each scene. They direct emotions by using smooth lyrical sentences, or staccato phrases to make a point. Just as a songwriter chooses the perfect lyrics for a ballad, an author finds words that are meaningful to their chosen audience and to themselves. They stand before that audience, give it their best (after many rehearsal hours of revising,) and hope that they receive a singing review for a work well done.
Best wishes and Merry Christmas to all aspiring writers and musicians,
Find Bettie’s Christmas short story “Fred’s Gift” as well as my country noir one “Debt to Pay” in the anthology below. Click here for ordering links.
Bettie Boswell is an author, illustrator, and composer for both Christian and children’s markets. She holds a B.S. in Church Music from Cincinnati Bible College and a Masters in Elementary Education from East Tennessee State University. She lives in Northwest Ohio. Her numerous musicals have been performed at schools, churches, and two community theater events. When she isn’t writing, drawing or composing, she keeps busy with her day job teaching elementary music. You can find her online on Twitter @BboswellB and on Facebook.