By Suzanne Y. Cordatos
The cool music director of my daughter’s 5th grade band goes for classic rock ‘n roll and traditional marches— the stuff that sounds good really loud. The young people haven't yet developed the ability to play a range of sounds through their shiny new instruments, so these pieces sound good the louder the better!
Does your work-in-progress sound too one-note?
- Is your writing packed with lightning-paced action?
- Do you play tour guide for your readers, meandering through description (and avoiding nasty things like confronting your beloved character with bad guys and car chases?)
- Is witty, contemporary dialogue your thing?
- Do you stay in your comfort zone by relying heavily on one of these elements?
A radio hit tells us we’ll “miss the sun when it starts to snow” and we'll know you "love her when you let her go.” Without contrasts, it is difficult to recognize what is sometimes right in front of our noses. In a good book, readers are more compelled to turn pages when emotional highs and lows pull them along. Who doesn't like to cheer in the stands when a favorite character is the underdog?
Layer notes in your composition
- Make satisfying “ups” by writing worst-case “downs”
- If your story flies at a fast pace, how will the climax stand out?
- If the characters don’t slow down to offer their thoughts, when will the reader identify with a character and process what is happening?
- Talking-head characters need feet grounded in reminders of setting, so a reader can walk along.
Musicians grow in talent when they add notes and technique to their repertoire. The conductor guides an ensemble through the score to convey the composer’s intended volume and feeling: soft pianissimo, loud forte, dramatic rhythm, or soothing flow. Music can play upon emotions like a dance, a falling in and out of love. My other talented daughter is singing this weekend in a production of Les Miserables with Colchester Community Theater. The music in Les Mis has the power to make one feel hope, anger, love, determination, longing and despair—and I’m probably missing another half dozen emotions in this list! Who doesn't love a good show (OR BOOK) that makes us laugh and cry, often at the same time?
Warning: One-note novels can be boring and exhausting to read.
For a more interesting balance, alternate scenes with moments of contemplation—a quiet opportunity for your main character to reflect on what has gone down. More importantly, it will give your reader time to worry about what comes next.
Have you enjoyed a book especially "musical" in its emotional complexity? When you read, do you like to feel you are in the competent hands of a good conductor? Share some titles!