Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Using Music in Text

Does music translate to the printed medium?

Much to my surprise, one of the main characters in my current WIP evolved into a musician. Well, maybe evolved isn’t the correct term. It was more like he informed me via his actions that this was an important part of his life and no matter what else I inflicted on him, his music is going to be a part of his story.

OK. I needed some time to think that over. He’s not a professional, just a hobbyist—as is the case with a lot of people—but his music is very much a part of how he reconciles his feelings and at times communicates them. Trying to show these traits in a novel is easier envisioned than written.

Many write to music (I don’t) and believe a certain theme or atmosphere manifests itself in the printed word as a result, but how can a writer actually incorporate music into prose? There is no way to “show” the essence of a favorite song. If the reader knows the song, you might be able to invoke their memory, but if they don’t know it they can’t “hear” the melody in their head no matter how well it’s described.

The actual lyrics don’t usually work. First of all, lyrics are copyrighted, and even if I were to get the proper permissions, I think song lyrics lose too much in translation without the melody that makes them so haunting, humorous or heartfelt. So instead of using lyrics, I hint at snippets of the melody, the character’s expression, what the song is saying and how it’s an interpretation of what’s going on in his life at that point. Another character may also reflect what he’s thinking about or where he is emotionally (especially if they are either the cause of that mood or close to him personally).

Later this week: The Music of the WIP

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