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Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Bettie Boswell

39760465_2130678013617363_178544449079476224_nMy 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,

Bettie Boswell

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories: Owls Hoot in the Daytime and Other Omens by Manly Wade Wellman

guitarw-1928322_1280Funny how a story sticks with you.

My fourth grade teacher read the class a story about a musician who travels through Appalachia and takes on a man who is intimidating a whole community through black magic. This man commands a strange bird, who strikes terror in everyone. The musician defeats the bird when he smashes his guitar on its head. The guitar is strung with silver strings, silver being a metal that evil can’t tolerate.

That was all I remembered of the story. When the internet came around, I tried to find it. After years of trying different combination of key words, I finally found it: “O Ugly Bird!” by Manly Wade Wellman, the first of his stories set in the North Carolina mountains about the wandering musician who goes only by the name of John and battles black magic with Christian symbols.

Mr. Wellman wrote many short stories, and I’ve read many of his other fantasies, but none captured my imagination like the John stories. First, he wrote these in first-person, which I prefer, and second, he wrote in the rhythms and words of Appalachia, where both sides of my family comes from. Also I haven’t read many stories where the hero consistently uses Christian symbols to defeat supernatural evil.

I include the John stories this month because almost all the stories are centered around a song. In “O Ugly Bird!”, John makes up songs to goad the witch-man. In others, he searches for unusual songs to sing. Sometimes the songs have power over people, like leading a greedy man to his doom in “The Desrick of Yandro”. Other songs, like “Vandy, Vandy”, relate a story that tells John something about the enemy he’s locked horns with. In one of my favorites, “Nobody Ever Goes There”, a young couple end up on an island in a river that no one in town visits after dark. As dark shapes begin to close in on them, John stands on the bridge to the island and sings a version of “Do Lord”. That song may be the most upbeat gospel song ever written. No wonder the evil creatures have to back off. There’s even a Christmas story, “On the Hills and Everywhere.”

Mr. Wellman wrote five novels featuring John, but I tried one and didn’t like it. Some people put these stories under “horror” or “dark fantasy”. They were written between 1951 to 1987, so they aren’t graphic or explicit. I couldn’t read them if they were.

Another bonus for me are all the wonderful names of the characters. “John” is the only boring one in the bunch. For women, we have Vandy Millen, Tilda Fleming, Craye Sawtelle, and Donie Carawan. For men, there’s Joris Yandro, Tewk Millen, Shull Cobart, and Forney Meecham.

A very good collection of all the John stories with a great introduction is Owls Hoot in the Daytime and Other Omens. You can’t buy it, but I’ve been able to get a copy through my library.

Bonus Story

Mr. Wellman also wrote a story featuring Sherlock Holmes during World War II. You can find it in the anthology, The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes StoriesIts title sums up the Holmes legend perfectly, “But Our Hero Was Not Dead.”

 

Writing Tip — Just For Fun

IMG_9298I always do a funny Christmas card with my kids, and this year we decided to invent different varieties of “Elf on the Shelf”. “Troll in a Bowl”, anyone? What variations can you think of?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: December as Writing Inspiration

christmasw-3006743_1280

I am reusing last year’s post for December as writing inspiration because I am trying to meet a writing deadline for another anthology. I have added a few new ideas.

Of course, it’s hard to think of December without thinking of Christmas. The whole month seems to be nothing but a headlong rush to the 25th. But I want to discuss some other ways to use December before I get to the gigantic holiday at the end of it.

Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year seems like a good setting for a clash between the forces of good and evil in any genre. I have an idea for a story of crime fiction where a serial killer is finally confronted during sunset on this day. A work of speculative fiction could give a fantastic meaning to the solstice. The long, dark days leading up to the solstice seem suitable for a dark tale, but because Christmas is right after the solstice, a happy ending doesn’t seem out of place.

School break

My kids finish their first semester at the start of Christmas vacation. The break would be a good setting for wrapping up a school story or kicking one off.

Advent

On the Christian calendar, Advent consists of the four Sundays before Christmas Day in which to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for the coming of Jesus. Each Sunday has focuses on “four virtues Jesus brings”, according to this article on United Methodist Church site, love, joy, hope, and peace. A story incorporating these virtues could lead up to a climax on Christmas Day.

New Year’s Eve

The romantic part of New Year’s Eve makes it perfect to explore those kind of relationships, whether a couple is coming together or pulling apart. The holiday also works for characters reaching a goal, coming to a final decision, or ending a significant experience. You can write these endings as tragic, bittersweet or victorious. I like a bittersweet tone because with the start of the new year the next day, it’s logical for your character to mourn what is ending but also looking forward to something new.

Christmas

So much has been written about, during, and because of this holiday, it’s difficult to find something fresh to say. And yet those of us writers who love the holiday always want to try. If you want to write a Christmas story, I encourage you to examine your own experiences and traditions to give your story a unique quality, whether it is a plot, voice, or character.

For example, I mentioned last week my family’s tradition of eating fried oysters on Christmas Day. We always have a live tree, which we cut the week before Christmas and take down on New Year’s Day. My husband and I reached a compromise over this because he swears if the tree is in the house longer than two weeks, it will catch fire and burn the house down. That experience could lead to a humorous story.

We don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Every parent I have mentioned this too says I was very wise not to start that tradition, which sound like a story starter to me. I always do a funny Christmas card with my kids. It is anything but funny while I take the photos for it, but once I recover from this experience — by June — I could write a comic story based on the trauma.

How would you use December as writing inspiration?

 

Writing Tip — The Gift of Writing

giftw-3587240_1280As I wrap up November’s theme of food and family, I wanted to remind you of a special gift you can give to your loved ones for Christmas: your writing.

I wrote about this last Christmas, so click here to revisit that post. In post for other holidays, I’ve talked about giving gifts of poetry and family stories.

My new idea this year is to write a family cookbook with stories. Each person who contributes a recipe should also write a short story about food to go with it. For example, my mom’s mom had a tradition of serving fried oysters for Christmas dinner. If I included the fried oyster recipe in a cookbook, I would write up the story of how my dad had to buy them each year. To get the freshest oysters possible, my dad would go to the fish market in Wheeling, West Virginia, on Christmas Eve. Wheeling has a large Italian community, and seafood is the traditional way to celebrate Christmas in Italian families. My dad said he did not want to get in the way of an Italian grandmother and her seafood order.

Stories like that will make a family cookbook even more precious.

Have you given someone the gift of your writing for Christmas? What did you give?

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