The music in your prose

Yesterday I got a message from an acquaintance asking me if I had any good exercises that I could suggest since he was getting back into writing after a two-year hiatus. I didn’t really have an answer for him, although I did point him to The Other Side of the Page.

But then, this morning, I ran across this video (don’t turn the volume on yet) and it makes a brilliant point but also sparks an interesting question: How do you put the music in your prose?

What a difference music makes

Sound muted: A report listing the details of the scene does not convey anything other than physical details. So imagine a paragraph or so from the imperial officer’s viewpoint, telling us where he is, i.e. describing the surroundings. And it makes for pretty dry, thin writing. I’d say a majority of new writers write like this (dry and thin). That’s what you’re seeing with the sound muted. Actually, to be fair, you’re seeing far more on the screen because the camera angle gives you his facial expression, but even that is ambiguous, as you’re about to find out by turning the sound on. In order to convey just how thin and dry a mere description would come across to a reader you’d have to change the camera angle by placing it behind the officer’s eyes, so we could only see what he sees. As readers we would not get his facial expression or any other body language at all, much less what he’s thinking.

Sound on: The melody suggests happy feelings. We kinda get that he’s about to meet someone, but not whom. The music makes a big difference. Then we are shown Darth Vader and we get a chuckle, because it doesn’t fit the music. Which was the point.

But now that you’ve had your chuckle, think about it as a writer. How do you convey the trepidation (rather than the happy feeling the music suggests) to your reader, when you have neither the happy song nor the original score to flavor the experience, nor a shot of the viewpoint character’s face? How do you SHOW rather than tell us that “Officer-so-and-so felt a great deal of trepidation as he approached Darth Vader’s shuttle?” Remember, your camera is behind the character’s eyes, not outside the character. You only have access to his thoughts on the matter. You cannot see what he does not see. Cannot know what he does not.

Ready, set, write.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.