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Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Music as writing inspiration

Writing Tip — Writing with Senses: Writing about the Sense of Sound

nice-1763660_1280Sound may be the second most popular sense writers evoke. Below are three ways to enhance your writing about the sense of sound.

Voices

I love it when an author describes how a character sounds. Dr. Watson often stated that the voice of Sherlock Holmes was strident. Is the voice high-pitched? A scratchy bass? Carries a heavy accent? Does the character talk fast or drawl? It’s now considered amateurish to have a line of dialogue and accompany it with a tag, such as “he roared”, “she squeaked”, or “he snarled.” So I have to get creative to let my readers know how a character sounds.

  • “His snarl forced the other man to rear back.”
  • “His roar would have done ten lions proud.”
  • “He talked as fast as a flock of woodpeckers at work.”
Music

If you have a character who loves music, you can have songs or tunes running through her mind to reveal her feelings about other characters and situations. By the way, you can use the titles of songs but you can not use the lyrics of copyrighted songs. You can get inventive and have your character create her own lyrics to fit familiar tunes. A few years ago, my kids loved the middle grade mystery series Jigsaw Jones. Jigsaw’s partner Mila would make up lyrics appropriate to the story, using tunes of well-known children’s songs.

A character with musical talent could also describe sounds in musical terms.

  • Her staccato, piccolo voice clashed with her husband’s mellow cello.
  • The gate squeaked like a first-grader’s first stroke on a violin.
Nature

All my stories, so far, have significant sections set in rural areas. Working in the sounds is important because nature is never quiet. In face, when nature gets quiet, something strange is going on ( Speculative fiction, anyone?) Bird songs signal what season a story is taking place. My backyard is home to many mourning doves. Their plaintive call would work well in a scene if I wanted to underline a melancholy tone. I often write about the sound of the wind. Where I live, the air is rarely still.

How do you use sound in your writing?

Writing Tip — 3 Ways to Put Rhythm in Your Writing

drumw-1729623_1280Writing rhythm comes in two forms. One is the overall rhythm of your unique writing style. This rhythm is not something you can read a book about or sit down to your computer and decide, “Today I will work on rhythm.” I think it’s a by-product of mastering other writing techniques and filtering it through a person’s talent. Second is the rhythm of a small passage within a larger work. This is the kind of rhythm you can deliberately work on. Below are three ways to put rhythm in your writing.

Rhythm in Descriptions

One way to enliven descriptions is to give them a rhythm or balance. Listed below are passages I think have enjoyable rhythms.

The sentence describes the things a man decided were the essentials for a vacation on sail boat in England before WWI:

“They reduced themselves, apparently, to four essentials: tins of salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should want to fight; a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die.”                “The Sins of Prince Saradine” by G.K. Chesterton

I like how Chesterton describes the four items in similar ways, giving a bounce to the sentence and providing a balance to the list. It also give insight into the personality of the man planning the trip. Mr. Chesterton could have just listed the items: “He packed food, guns, brandy, and his friend, a priest.” But the longer version is so much more interesting and entices the reader to read on.

This is a description of Halloween during the Dark Ages from “The Cloak” by Robert Bloch.

“A dark Europe, groaning in superstitious fear, dedicated this Eve to the grinning Unknown. A million doors had once been barred against evil visitants, a million prayers mumbled, a million candles lit.”

The repetition of “millions” gives the description a rhythm, making it memorable.

In “The Monster of Poot Holler”, author Ida Chittum uses rhythm to establish the setting in the Ozarks.

“Folk in other parts of the mountains look down on Poot Hollerians. They say the laziest men and the biggest liars live there too, and men folk who would rather tell a lie on credit than tell the truth for cash.”

Since I write in first person, I try to give my descriptions rhythms suitable to the main character’s personality.

Rhythm in Dialogue

My editor Sharyn Kopf would tell me a section of dialogue needed a beat. Usually that meant a pause to give the section a certain rhythm. Damon Runyon used beats in his dialogue to reproduce the cadence of New York City accents in his tales of gamblers and crooks in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This sentence is from the story, “Dream Street Rose.”

“Well, Rose,” I say, “it is a nice long story, and full of romance and all this and that, and,” I say, “of course I will never be ungentlemanly enough to call a lady a liar, but,” I say, “if it is not a lite, it will do until a lie comes along.”

I use beats in  dialogue to change the flow. If the person speaking needs to change  the subject, but I don’t want to break in with another person, I use a beat. Or a beat can emphasize what comes after it. This is a sentence from my story, “Debt to Pay”. David is a character talking to a man who thinks David wants to blackmail him.

“”Oh, I know you don’t have much money.” David grinned up at him. “But whoever hired you does.”

Placing the action between the two sentences makes for better flow than putting it at the end.

Rhythm in Humor

Rhythm when writing a humorous passage is critical. In my novel, The Truth and Other Strangers, I have one character with a very bad memory trying to remember the password for a new phone. His cousin is standing beside him.

(I said) “What’s the password to your phone?”

Gabe’s lips twisted in a grimace. “I know we got one.”

“Yeah?”

“And I know Mike told me.”

“Yeah?”

“And I know he made it easy for me to remember.”

I sighed. “But you don’t remember it.”

“Not really.”

Establishing a rhythm to this exchange emphasizes the humor.

Now it’s your turn. Do you think writing can have rhythm? What kind of rhythm have you discovered in your own writing?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Songs as Writing Inspiration

musicianw-349790_1280Have you ever listened to a song and thought it had the makings of a great story? I love songs that tell stories, and many of them can be adapted for my favorite genre, crime fiction. Below are some songs that have stirred my imagination:

“The Long Black Veil” by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin. I first heard it sung by Mick Jagger on the Chieftains album The Long Black Veil.

“The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia” by Bobby Russell, sung by Vicki Lawrence.

“Lyin’ Eyes” by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, sung by the Eagles.

I’ve also thought about how to write the story of “Good King Wenceslas” as modern speculative fiction.

What other songs as writing inspiration do you recommend?

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.

 

 

 

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: What’s Your Personal Theme Song?

sunsetw-1012477_1280I borrowed this idea from the site Inspired PromptVisiting authors are asked to select a theme song for their life. That inspired me to think of one song or tune that seems to sum up my life so far. My choice takes a bit of explanation, so if you don’t mind following me into the mists of time, come along.

Seventh grade was a very dark year for me. I hated school because I had no friends. Each school day was a trial. But I lived for Saturdays. Because at 1 p.m., I could settle down to watch reruns of The Greatest American HeroI lost myself in that show, forgetting seventh grade for an hour. I loved the camaraderie of the characters. And I loved the theme song “Believe It or Not.”

I can’t think of a better song for me. Believe it or not, I became a mom after 35. Believe it or not, an introvert like me is allowing people to critique her writing and is telling professionals in the industry, “I know what I’m doing. I can write.” Believe it or not, God can use someone who cowers at the thought of talking to strangers or any kind of confrontation to venture into the world of publishing.

So what’s your personal theme song?

 

 

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