Writing a novel via the musical approach…

Once upon a time I was the only female member in a rock band which had a very menacing sounding name. The boys often found themselves saying “she’s not with any of us” to their adoring female fans and the name of the band changed to She’s Not With Us. We had a certain degree of success in the battle of the bands arena and played as an opening act for some of the more well-known local acts. It was fun while it lasted and then life took us in separate directions.

Go into any live rock concert and ask the crowd which member of the band is the most important…go ahead, I dare you. Once you have started a riot and come away from it in one piece. I think you will find that based on the most common type of rock band which is usually a four or five member configuration these are the types of answers you will get:

The lead singer is the most important because their voice and the lyrics they sing evoke powerful emotions within the crowd and give the song its meaning.

The guitarist is the most important member of the band because they provide the melody. Without melody a piece of music will be unrecognisable.

The drummer is the most important because they provide the beat. They are the ever valuable time keepers.

The bass guitarist is the most important because they are the glue that holds the whole band together. They provide both rhythm and harmony to a piece of music.

If you ask me which is the most important member of a band I would answer, all of them, as long as they work well together. Often times the bassist and the drummer find themselves complimenting each other as they strive to develop a strong rhythm section. The singer and the other guitarists team up to focus on the melody. All parts of a novel are equally important too. Without a good plot, tight writing is pointless.

Putting a band together is not easy but neither is novel writing. Getting four or more people to come together and achieve one goal can be problematic. The same goes for putting down a framework for a novel. Both forming a band and writing a novel start with the all important idea. You need to know the genre and general style you want before you can do anything else.

When writing a song musicians often write the hook first. Just like in novel writing, the musical hook is there to reel the audience in and be a catalyst for the rest of the piece. The hook sets the mood. A simple hook is best because you do not want it to give anything away but want to tease the audience so they stick around until the end.

The next part of song writing is usually to lay down the melody. This step often uses the hook as a springboard. The melody is like the main narrative or storyline of your novel. This is the primary thing that is happening in the story. You could call this the main framework for the novel. Once you have a nice melody you can expand on it by adding the verses. I think once the framework of a novel is down then you can embellish it adding in the extra sensory details.

I always think of the chorus as the dialogue part of the song. That is because for me reading dialogue is exciting and the things that characters say are often memorable. The chorus of a song is memorable. Sprinkling in plenty of dialogue between sections of narrative may help to keep your readers reading. Think of your favourite song and try to sing it without the chorus. Is it as interesting?

Some song writers write the bridge next. The bridge is similar to the hook and transitions the listener between one part of the music and the next. This is a little bit like the transitions that happen in writing. Although in music writing there is often only one bridge in novel writing transitions from section to section are strongly encouraged. This alerts the audience that a change has occurred and keeps them going forward.

The bass-line usually comes next. It plays at the same time as the melody but works in the background. This is a little like the back story for the characters or story line of a novel. Weaving in a baseline that complements the melody but also supports it is important. It also helps provide the pacing for the novel.


About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three who doesn’t really know what she wants to be when she grows up.
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3 Responses to Writing a novel via the musical approach…

  1. I used to agree with you, but the White Stripes proved that you don’t need a bass player, and now I don’t know what to think. I just liked being a singer (back in the day) because I didn’t have to carry any equipment.

    • Singing was never an option for me, I have a terrible voice but you’re right leaving after a gig with a mic and stand is much easier than with a guitar and a heavy amp.

  2. Pingback: Blog Treasures 5~26 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer

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