The musicality of words

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This blog has been one year in the making, and I’m still not entirely sure why it’s here, what the point is. Sometimes I feel like I want to talk about things that have happened, books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, music I’ve listened to, sometimes I just want to reflect on ideas or post things that I’ve written somewhere along the line. I guess I’d say that I like to focus on reading and writing, the telling of stories, and looking at the different ways they can be read. I go through phases where I want to write about certain things and not about others, and I try that for a little while before moving on to something else. I guess I’ll keep doing that until something just feels right. I’m thinking it’ll probably take a variety of things here and there before this blog really ‘clicks’ for me. But mostly, I think what I’m looking for is some form of natural drive from within myself to just write regularly on the things that interest me and that I think may interest other people.

Right now, what’s sitting on my brain is a thought on writing techniques. The more I get into writing, and the more I get into my studies on that subject, the more involved I become with editing my own work and trying to raise the bar a bit more each time. I wrote a 17,000 word story in February, and now it’s April I’ve pulled out the story again and begun a read-through, making notes for when I go to write the next draft. Over the past couple of years (and especially the most recent) I’ve been trying to find my own voice, and I’ve reached a point where I can say that I write high concept speculative fiction with a dry, realist tone. I’m not one to dwell on extensive world building and character development. Yes, in any story, setting and characterisation are important, but I feel no need to waste long, flowery chunks of prose detailing the foods or the flowers or architecture of the world, or the alien expressions or emotions or ways of talking or whatever. I prefer to keep that stuff down to the bare necessities, tiny little chunklets. I may subconsciously work against myself when I write, but what I really like is action. Keep the plot moving, keep it wild and keep it moving forward, and every now and then, throw in something unexpected.

The biggest piece of feedback I got from this story was that the pacing was wrong. I’d pumped this world full of action I didn’t leave room for it to breathe. I feel like I didn’t put enough time into setting up the fantasy and technology and aesthetics that make the world special and fascinating. I still don’t think I need to flesh it out too much, just that I need to make sure the action moves at a natural pace from scene to scene, and that there’s enough atmosphere in the world and in the characters to keep them feeling nice and chunky and realistic.

The way I’ve come to consider how to approach this issue was through movies. In my first semester at uni I was doing a film unit and my film group made a terrible, terrible movie. And one of the tutors marking the film said what he said about a lot of the films – that the music ruined it. Get rid of the music and let the diegetic stuff create the mood of the film. And by that, I don’t mean by using the weather or the setting to dictate the mood of the scene. It may influence a scene, but not be so overbearing that it rams mood down your throat.

Now, I’m a guy who loves film soundtracks. I think if they’re used properly, they can be pretty brilliant. Kind of like how overly flowery/purple/decorative prose has the power to create a truly stunning image, but not if it’s constantly waving those images in your face. Ever since that tutor made that comment about hating music in films I felt that I took more notice of scenes in films where there was no music. The tension and the mood of the scene is entirely in the dialogue and the setting and the action. I think it’s important for a filmmaker to know if he wants the scenes with the music to stand out, or the scenes without the music to stand out, as one can really puncture the action of a scene, where the other captures the beauty.

I would say that someone like Cormac McCarthy would be a writer whose style is mostly musical with moments of hard-hitting action, where I think my own writing style is mostly action where occasional poetics are used to emphasise a scene. Of course, this was the last thing on my mind when I was writing the story, as I just wanted to catch all the action down on paper. Now that the editing stage has begun, I feel the need to punctuate the story with a little music here and there. Nothing too overbearing, but enough to feel like I’m giving the story its own voice. And, of course, my primary motive for writing is to tell a good story, and this way, I’d be leaving a lot of things up to the readers to fill in some of the finer details, to use their imagination alongside my own, and for the most part, to leave the mood-setting up to the characters and the readers.

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