How Music Can Make You a Better Writer

How can music make you a better writer? Before I began writing and editing for a living, I was a music student studying voice and composition. In no way was I a musician, and after a year I dropped the scholarship. But later, when I began learning how to write, the theory and composition classes I took helped me understand that story structure is a lot like musical structure. Melody, harmony, rhythm — it all can be applied to writing.

Think about a favorite piece of music. A short story is like a track off a CD. A novel is like a symphony or concerto, and its chapters the movements. Like all good stories, music has central characters (the theme), multilayered conflict (melody, harmony, point, counterpoint); changes in mood (loud passages, quiet moments, instrumental solos),  and enough peaks and valleys to take the listener on an entertaining ride. One of the reasons why Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and it’s glorious finale “Ode to Joy” is so popular is that the piece has just about everything a good novel has: a strong central theme, dramatic flourishes, appealing solos, changes in mood, and a strong finish. If you go back and begin reading your chapters, can you hear the music? Can you think of it as a song?

What if you don’t know a symphony from a telephone book? Tell the story in terms of pop music. All the same elements are there. A pop or country song’s standard format is  verse, bridge, chorus. The theme of the story and the story itself is in the verses; the chorus repeats the theme, and the bridge — often the best part — can provide all types of opportunities for twist or a surprise ending.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back (or never sees her again): it’s the stuff of literature — and the Billboard Top 100.

If all your usual tricks don’t seem to be sparking your imagination, trying thinking of your  story as a song.  Maybe the music will help you add another dimension to your writing.

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