Today I’m visiting author M. Liz Boyle’s blog with my guest post, “The Importance of Fiction.” This wasn’t an easy post to write, which may sound weird since I write fiction. But sometimes when you do something long enough, you forget why you’re doing it. So, thank you, Liz, for giving me a topic that forced me to examine why writers write and readers read fiction.
The month of May is all about readers on JPC Allen Writes. I’ll be discussing all kinds of bookish topics. So today I’m asking what are your favorite book genres? If you’ve visited my site very often, you know that my #1 favorite genre is mystery. But there are many subgenres under mystery. I love classic mysteries and cozy mysteries. Below are links to my reviews of some of my favorite mystery novels and short stories.
- “A Scandal in Winter” by Gillian Linscott. Classic mystery with a touch of romance.
- The Father Hunt by Rex Stout. Classic mystery.
- The Black Lizard Big Book Locked Room Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler . Mostly classic and cozy mysteries.
- “The Long Way Down” by Edward D. Hoch. Classic mystery.
- The Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Classic mystery.
- Uncle Abner mysteries by Melville Davisson Post. Classic mystery.
- “The Three Horsemen of The Apocalypse” by G.K. Chesterton. Classic mystery.
- “Summer Job” by Amanda Witt. Country noir.
After mysteries, I like speculative fiction and humor.
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
- The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
- “The Hob” by Judith Moffet
- “The Tryouts” by Barry B. Longyear
- Over Seventy by P.G. Wodehouse
- “Crime Wave at Blandings” but P.G. Wodehouse
- Short stories by Patrick F. McManus
- Suburban Luchador by Philip Rivera
Now it’s your turn. What are you favorite book genres?
Rhythm in writing may be the hardest technique to master because it’s the hardest to teach. Some writers may say that it’s a concept to ignore, and they could be correct. But I find myself considering the rhythm of how a scene is unfolding, usually when it’s a pivotal one. So if you think finding the rhythm of a scene will help your story, read on.
Before You Write, Read
The first step in mastering rhythm in writing is to read. The more you read, the more you pick up on, even without noticing it consciously, how a particular author or genre lays out scenes. That absorption of rhythm will be your guide as you work on your own stories. It does with me. As I craft on a scene, my gut tightens when I sense it’s not working, like a drummer hitting the wrong beat. I’ve learned to pay attention to that tightening and then devote time pulling the scene apart to figure out exactly where and why it’s gone off the rails.
If you trust your intuition, which is based on your experience, then you can develop a rhythm of your own.
Different Scenes, Different Rhythms
What is the point of your scene? The answer will have a great impact on its rhythm.
When I wrote the climax to my mystery short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I knew God had given me something special and didn’t want to ruin it. My main character Rae is discovering who tried to murder her mother twenty years ago and who her father is. I didn’t want the scene to wallow in sentimentality, but also didn’t want to avoid the big emotions. So I had to balance it, find a rhythm. I solved this problem by adding humor to the scene, lightly, inserting it when I felt the deep emotions might overwhelm the story. This alternation between humor and serious emotions established a rhythm for the scene.
In the climax of my YA novel, A Shadow on the Snow, Rae confronts a stalker, both with words and action. Because this is a tense, suspenseful scene, I wrote a lot of one-line paragraphs. That makes for quicker reading, mimicking the rapid way Rae has to process the quickly-changing situation. Slowing the rhythm with a lot of description would work against the mood I hoped to create.
But in the middle of Shadow, Rae has a heart-to-heart talk with her father that forms the theme and crux of their relationship. Here the pace can be slower because it’s an intense, uninterrupted conversation and I wanted the reader to have time to digest what’s being said, like Rae is. The dialogue is the star of this scene, so the rhythm here is to minimize dialogue and action tags, only adding those that keep the conversation moving and the reader grounded in the scene.
Do you think finding rhythm of a scene is important? Why or why not?
Last week, my prompt was about songs that could be turned into novels. This week I’m broadening my question. What music has inspired your writing? Have you listened to a piece, whether a song or instrumental piece, and imagined a scene to go with it? It’s almost impossible for me to listen to any kind of music and not concoct a scene to accompany it. Here are a few musical pieces that have inspired me lately.
“The Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennio Morricone. This instrumental piece is part of the soundtrack for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It helped me craft a climax for the book that I’m planning to be the next to last book in my Rae Riley mystery series. I hadn’t seen the movie, which allowed me to imagine anything I wanted.
“On Earth as It Is in Heaven” by Ennio Morricone. This is a piece from another movie, The Mission. I haven’t seen the movie, but the piece has given my ideas for the ending scenes in my series. I haven’t been able to find an English translation for the words, but it really doesn’t matter because the voices act like other instruments.
Your turn. What music has inspired your writing?
As an author who loves music, it would be lovely if I could include a soundtrack with my books and stories. Do publishers ever do that with audiobooks? I would put songs or tunes that had inspired characters or scenes. Or my publisher could hire someone to write original music. Since those dreams will have to stay dreams, I have to include music in my stories the best way I can. Using music to show character is a fresher, more novel way for readers to get to know my characters than physical description and dialogue.
A Main Character Who’s Also a Musician
My teen detective Rae Riley is, first and foremost, an amateur photographer. It’s the way she sees the world. But, like a lot of creative people, she enjoys other arts. She played drums in her high school marching band and jazz band. Making her a drummer gives her personality another layer. She’s playing an instrument that leans more toward males, so some might see her choice as unusual or offbeat (ha!).
When I was in band, certain personalities tended to pick certain instruments. The Type A, straight arrows played flute and trumpet. The clarinet was the everyman or woman of the band. The more quirky kids picked trombone, saxophone, or percussion. My character’s choice of instrument can say a lot about who he or she is.
If you need to draw disparate characters together, making them all musicians gives them a common interest and a plausible reason for people who might not normally associate with each other to interact. Rae joins three young police officers in jam sessions because they play outlaw country music for fun and didn’t have a drummer. (Yes, it’s supposed to be funny that cops like outlaw country.)
Favorite Music Reveals Character Traits
The fact that these millennial cops are playing music from the 70’s says something about their personalities. Houston, who sings lead and plays lead guitar, explains how he can’t stand current country music. His love for outlaw country can mean any number of things. Maybe he’s not concerned with following popular trends. Or he doesn’t like how big business takes over an art form; he likes art for art’s sake. Or he just likes to be different, to stand out from the crowd.
When Rae and the cops take a break from jamming, they play songs from their playlists. I can use their choices to say something about their characters. Since Rae doesn’t know the three young men well, she hesitates over her selections because her playlist contains what she considers some pretty obscure songs. So she picks more popular songs. Her choice shows her uncertainty in this new social situation. Out of the four characters. the bass player is the only one to pick instrumental pieces instead of songs. I can use that deviation from the other characters to reveal something about him.
Now it’s your turn. Have you written or read about characters who love music? How did the author use music to show character?