I write a lot of different kinds of things. I write marketing stuff, fiction, music. I think it would behoove us to focus on that last one for a second, though. One of the things I stressed the most about writing when I was teaching workshops was very simple: music.

Whether you are writing a song or not, you are writing music. Rhythm, assonance, alliteration…these are like the whipped cream on top of the writing cake. Writing is a very complicated proposition. You need to tell a story, but you want to “lull” the reader into the story…you don’t want them to be aware that they are being told a story. So, you hypnotize.

How do you hypnotize? You do it with rhyme and feel and soul. Telling the story is half the battle. Telling the story in an engaging, pleasant way is pretty damn important. You know what I mean…there are writers who tell a good story and then there are writers who leave you in awe of their abilities with wordplay.

When I was teaching, I always stressed the idea that you have to paint with a very fine brush. Metaphors are great. Alliteration is great. Inside rhyme schemes are excellent…but, like so many things, moderation is the key.

You can just as easily bore and annoy a reader with too much flash as you can with a dull story that falls flat. You have to find the balance that works for you. I write some dark fiction. I also write silly poems for my daughter. I like to write music with my friend Pat. But it all comes from the same place.

Writers get very serious a lot. And that’s a shame because writing is the ultimate play. You can do whatever you want! It’s awesome…which is why we do it. It is pure fun that won’t make you feel crappy the next day.

I don’t remember his name, but, in college, I learned about a poet who wrote only in dots and dashes. I thought it was hackery then and I do now, but I get it. Rhythm. I just choose to use real words instead of symbols, but the idea is the same. Your writing, if musical, will resonate with readers. It’s not neccesarily something you can force, but you can practice and get more natural with it.

That’s my writing advice for the day. Don’t listen to music when you write. Let the words make the music. Tell your story, but tell it like, well, a bard…a minstrel. Let your story sing and you have already won the battle.

Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

28 thoughts on “Music”

  1. Awesome post. I agree that you can bore a reader with too much flash (it happens to me a lot, actually) and that moderation is one key. Also, like you said, that rhythm is important. I’ve actually been trying to pass that idea on to other writers I know personally. One of my pet peeves is when an editor/beta/unsolicited-advice-giver suggests unnecessary changes that ruin the rhythm of a bit of prose (one I ran across recently in another author’s work was his beta suggesting the use of the more correct ‘friendlier’ in place of ‘more friendly’ even though it made the sentence less readable.)

    Readability, rhythm, flow, meter, poetry, music. Like Terry Brooks said, “If you do not hear music in your words, you have put too much thought your writing and not enough heart.” 🙂

    1. Thanks G. Rhythm is always in the forefront of my mind. Walking, writing, eating, talking…the heart beats at a steady rate (usually) for a reason.

  2. Thomas Hardy still holds the number one place as my favorite author because he accomplished this. His words fall on the ear like the music of the spheres. Jude, Tess, Madding Crowd, all are classics, for this exact reason.

    Thanks for another great post, J.D.

  3. Great post, JD

    You hit it on the head (or maybe tapped it lightly), moderation is the key: know when to slash and stab… know when to sooth and caress. Timing and flow are everything.

    Thanks for your insight.

    1. Moderation would have made my life a lot easier. So it is. Thanks for the comment brother.

  4. Agreed. Writing is not only putting words together to transmit an idea, it’s choosing the best ones and putting them together in a way that makes the reader forget it’s “just a story”.

  5. For some reason, reading the last paragraph brought the image of the rooster from Disney’s animated Robin Hood to mind. That said, I definitely agree with your post. With both writing music and stories, if you can settle into that perfect rhythm, you can find yourself having a completed song or a few thousand words without even realizing it.

    1. Doo da doo doo doo da doo doo. Doo da doo doo doo doo doo. Do da doo doo doo doo DOO doo doo, duh doo doo doo da doo.

      I play that song on my guitar all the time. 🙂

        1. For real, right? That thing is so damn catchy. I’m gonna go play it right now. But not in Nottingham.

  6. You’re absolutely right — writing is all about the rhythm and the flow of the words into sentences, and the sentences into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into stories, on and on, forever.

    But you’re not supposed to admit that it’s fun. C’mon, man, if you do that, everybody will want in! No no, writing is hard work. In fact, it’s *miserable* work. All we do all day is wrestle words into submission. Anybody who wants to do this for a living is nuts. 😉

  7. You are speaking directly to me with this post, Dan. Words into the beat, rhythm, the roll and flow, alliteration, cadence…these are most important to me. When I disappoint myself with my writing, this is often what I feel is lacking. I read everything I write aloud: to try to ensure there isn’t a word stumble/trip and to listen to the beat. It affects the mood of the scene and story too.

    Your insight into this aspect of writing is one of the reasons why I love your writing so much Dan. Thanks for this post! 😉

    P.S. I was interested to read Marcia’s comment about Thomas Hardy. I read most of his books in my early 20s. I don’t recall that aspect of them. I guess I have some re-reading to do :))

    1. Until re-reading Hardy’s novels, decades after they had been mandatory Eng Lit reading assignments, I had no clue that his gift for cadence was the clincher that drew me in.

  8. Fabulous! True…attention to the rhythm and contrast can make a “good” story hold a reader tighter and even sparkle (Although not in that sparkly vampire sort of way.) Rhythm and contrast is such a HUMAN attention getter, no wonder it’s the cornerstone of ALL arts…design, painting, and performance as well as literature. Often I can tell if the writer is a musician (or very attuned to music) by the prose style. Like it’s all flowing from the same source.

  9. I’d go mad if I didn’t listen to music… I have whole soundtracks for my books, and change songs to fit the scene. Most of the music I use is movie trailer music, or soft jazz, depending on the story… The rhythm of the story is still set by me, the music just gives it that extra oompf!

  10. It’s all music to me. Though I can’t write while listening to music (it’s noisy enough inside my head), I’m often inspired to write by a piece of music, either because of a particular lyric or a guitar riff that sparks something primal, instinctual. Connections are made, a secret door opens, and my prose rolls out from there, like an extension of a song that takes off in a completely new direction in search of its own rhythm. It’s an automatic process that I’m sometimes startlingly aware of while it’s happening and sometimes only keen to after the fact.

    This would work in reverse if I actually knew how to write music. Since I don’t, I translate all my internal music into stories. Ditto with visual arts. It’s all relative, isn’t it?

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