Friday, August 26, 2016

Editing for Musicality by Olivia Farnsworth

Happy Friday, friends! Shannon here. I have the crazy privilege of introducing you all to Olivia Farnsworth. If you'll remember, we sent out a call for article submissions a while back and Olivia's concept was chosen as a winner! It was a such a joy to work with Olivia as we polished up her article and I'm so excited to share her and her work with you all. She taught me a little something and I think you'll see she has a lot to offer the writing community. 

Please welcome Olivia Farnsworth!



Olivia Farnsworth is fifteen years old and lives in Burns, Oregon, with sixty acres of desert pasture, her parents, two brothers, and several assorted trailer-loads of critters. She is currently pursuing her dream career of being a novelist through her two YA Christian fiction books, one in the editing phase and the other still in the first draft stage. When she isn’t typing or working her summer job for the BLM, she enjoys running paths in the fields with her border collies and hanging out on Go Teen Writers.
 
Whether you realize it or not, music and writing have much in common, and understanding their similarities can help you when you edit your novel. In writing, musicality refers mainly to the sound created by prose and relies on pleasing rhythm, diction (word choice), and occasional sound devices. While nearly every area of editing for musicality requires use of a well-developed "author's sense," there are some specific techniques you can use to give you a head start. The ones I'll be introducing today are tips for creating pauses in dialogue, establishing mood and mood shifts, and creating overall musicality and balance in your manuscript. Let's dive into these three tips, starting with what your characters say—their dialogue.

Tip #1: Creating Pauses in Dialogue
            
If you have ever studied conversations, then you know that the participants are prone to fall silent at some point during the exchange. Maybe two acquaintances run out of things to say, and an awkward emptiness fills the air between them. Maybe one person tactlessly breaks some bad news to a friend and now watches anxiously, waiting for the reaction.
            
Of course, the opposite can be true as well. When one character interrupts another or shatters a peaceful silence with a shouted interjection, the novelist has to manipulate the word choice and order to capture the moment in the desired emotional light. No matter the situation, timing is essential to creating natural dialogue. Take a look below at an excerpt I took from the rough draft of my WIP. This segment is written from the perspective of Armand, so we hear the exchange through his ears. He is focused solely on an injury his leader suffered, which is the original topic of the discussion between him and the other speaker, Uriah. However, Uriah has other things on his mind, which provides an interesting dilemma in writing their conversation—a dilemma I did not handle correctly at first. See if you can spot the timing error in the original copy below.

            “Got the lung, aye?” Uriah stood and stretched.
            “It appears so.”
            “Arrows are better than bullets.”                  
            “Is that so?” Armand squinted at him, trying to track the abrupt swing of subject matter.
            
Did you catch it? Uriah's change of subject was abrupt, as I intended it. His mind was occupied with a problem he deemed more severe than an injury—the effect the blast of a discharged bullet could have on their stealth mission. Armand's comeback, however, was too quick. Of course, he would try to sound like he was on top of things, but he needed time to process the situation before doing so. Here's the edited version.

            “Got the lung, aye?” Uriah stood and stretched.
            “It appears so.”
            “Arrows are better than bullets.”
            Armand squinted at him, his mind scrambling to track the abrupt swing of subject matter. “Is that so?”

A little switcheroo, a few more words tossed in, and we're good to go. The narrative and dialogue work together to create a natural pace that does not confuse the reader.
             
Below is another example from my novel. Unlike Armand in the previous excerpt, Hums retaliates quickly when startled. To achieve this, I placed his dialogue first to reveal his outer reaction, and the narrative second to show his emotional response. This excerpt is written from Hums' perspective. FYI, Mason and Stitches are both horses.

            He (Hums) checked the remaining three hooves, but nothing was awry. He ran his cold fingers through every inch of Mason’s thick winter woolies, then began to examine Stitches.
            A voice echoed out of the darkness that swamped the barn. “He’s got a puncture wound.”
            “Would you quit that?” Hums snarled into the empty space around him, though his fury was at himself for starting.
           
For interruptions or a quick reply, as seen above, it often works best to position the reply immediately after the initial dialogue, with no narration in between. While it is not always necessary to follow this suggestion, it is helpful when a certain degree of abruptness is desired.

Tip #2: Establishing Mood and Mood Shifts
             
When reading fiction, you may want to study what makes it rhythmic so you can better create musicality through your own writing. The style of prose found in novels isn't meant to be all straight-lined and even, the way poetry is. Prose has its own sound, like the rushing of a river—loose, disorganized, but united. If your sentences all start sounding the same, your writing may feel stiff, interrupting the flow. To keep the reader tuned, you need every sentence to glide gently into the other.
             
This brings us to the topic of mood. While you've probably read many things about conveying emotion, the idea I want you to recognize now is that the mood you portray will be strongest if you focus on either one or two at a time. Take the following excerpt from my WIP, which contains two different moods and two different tempos, or speeds. The first paragraph is fast paced action—your typical fight scene. However, Uriah was bitten by a venomous snake just prior to the battle, and the second paragraph introduces the first wave of the symptoms. Paragraph three (shortened for space efficiency) brings us back to the urgency of the situation as the fight continues, now with heightened stakes. Be on the lookout for the details that create the change in mood and tempo among the three paragraphs. FYI, the environment here is an underground hot springs.

            He (Uriah) drove the man back with a series of punches to the face. Steve flinched heavily with each, and a stream of blood darkened what little Uriah could see of the man's face in the dim light underground. Uriah's jaw clenched, and his anger powered each solid, calculated attack. He drove Steve backwards, and the man stumbled over calf-high rocks behind his boot heels and fell backwards into a frothy mineral bath. Fists clenched in tight wads at his sides, Uriah strode forward in pursuit.
            A wave of confusion scrambled his vision, and his feet swept him sideways into some rocks. He straightened himself and tried to shake the vapors out of his head. The motion only mixed the potion and made him feel faint. His knees felt loose and liquid, and he stood stone-still, afraid if he tried to walk, they would betray him.
            Steve hit him from the side and drilled him into the granite boulders beside him. The jagged teeth of the rocks struck his shoulder and dug their spikes into his ribs as the heavier man bore his weight down on his prey.
             
When something happens to change the mood of your POV character, the shift should be clear and concise. It's often quick, too, so your wording and the sentence structure around it are important. Think about this as you read the next tip.

Tip #3: Creating Overall Musicality and Balance
            
There are two key components that contribute to rhythm, which is a vital piece in creating musicality. The first is sentence combinations, as mentioned above, and the second is accents, or the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in words and sentences. While there are no specific rules involving accents, it is something to consider when you edit. The pattern of ups and downs created by words in a sentence should combine well and have enough variety to feel natural. In addition, using words that sound alike in close proximity can throw your readers, so be careful. The length and structure of your sentences also come into play, since the pauses created by punctuation affect the rhythm.
             
If any of you have ever taken a music theory class, you're probably familiar with musical phrases, stanzas, and a thing called cadence. Phrases and stanzas are the sentences and paragraphs of the music world, and recognizing their positions can help a composer write chord progressions. This is where cadence comes in.
            
Toward the end of a stanza, the chords begin to cycle back through a specific pattern to the I chord, which is the simplest chord and the one on which almost every stanza begins and ends. The gradual return to the I chord is cadence. The listener, subconsciously hearing the pattern, anticipates the conclusion. The same is true for paragraphs. Most paragraphs have a beginning, a middle, and an end, all of which form what could be called a paragraph arc. Be aware of this structure during the editing phase and correct any paragraphs that do not have a satisfying conclusion. This will create a much smoother transition of ideas throughout your story.
             
As a quick example of what cadence looks like in a paragraph, here is another excerpt from my WIP. Take note of how the different aspects I mentioned bring the musical aspect of cadence into the writing.

A tiny eel squirmed within her warm heart as he stood there against the wall, so brown he almost blended in. The dark irises and dilated pupils, filled with quiet mystery and brutish fear, sent a tingle through her skin. Only a strange and dark past could form such a creation, and in the back of her mind Judy resolved to discover that past.

One word of caution before we close: when finishing a paragraph with a decision or an opinion the character has reached, state it subtly so as to aid the reader's understanding of the situation without insulting their powers of deduction.

Musicality in fiction writing may be new to you, but understanding it will help you make your manuscripts shine. 

Have you ever noticed the similarities between music and writing, or is this a new concept to you? Have you struggled with any of the scenarios I brought up? 

Feel free to post your own examples of editing improvements you've made and how it relates to the idea of musicality in fiction.

24 comments:

  1. I've thought some about the similarities of music and writing, like how they both tell a story. They both have a "show, don't tell rule."
    I really like the similarities you gave! I'll look for things like that while I'm editing.

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    1. Thank you, Josie! I hadn't thought of the "show, don't tell rule" in music before... you taught me something new today!

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  2. The article looks fantastic, Mrs. Dittemore! Thank you again for all the work you put in to making it the best it could be.
    To all my fellow teen writers out there--If you ever get a chance to work with Mrs. Dittemore, take it; she's awesome.

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    1. *blushes* You made it easy, girl.

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  3. Nice Job, Oliva! I've always thought about making my writing "lyrical", but usually just in description--never in dialogue or in narrative passages.

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    1. Thank you, Forest! I'm glad to hear you already had a head start on understanding this concept and were able to learn something new as well. I hope it's useful to you in future writing/editing.

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  4. Olivia, thank you so much for contributing to Go Teen Writers! I love your article.

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    1. Thank you, Mrs. Morrill! This was a really fantastic opportunity for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I can't wait to see what the other teen blog contributors write!

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  5. Good job and interesting article, Olivia. "Musicality" in writing is often something I find to be subconscious unless I accidentally throw it off badly; I haven't ever taken the time to really think about it, so it's good that you are able to elaborate on how it should be.

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    1. I'm glad you were able to benefit from my article, CS C. When I first tried to figure out how to put these ideas into words, I was unsure of how to do it. Like you said, creating musicality in writing is most often something an author does subconsciously, so I had to narrow my sights down to specific things to do to fix bad musicality in writing. Thus the "editing" part. :) Thanks for joining the conversation!

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  6. Hello my name is Rebecca Woodie and I am a 4-H member too. (I couldn't help but notice the ribbon in your picture).
    Anyway, it was a very interesting article. I had never thought of writing like music. (I don't have much musical experience). Thank you for sharing your expertise!
    Rebecca

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    1. You're welcome, Rebecca! Yes, that picture was taken of my filly, Penelope, and I at my county's State Qualifying Horse Show. What 4-H projects are you involved in?

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  7. Interesting thoughts, Olivia! I hadn't really considered the connection between musicality and writing before, but I can definitely see it. I especially liked your first tip, about pauses. Our word order and pacing has a huge effect on the mood of a scene, and it's something we should be deliberate about. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome, Rachelle! Glad it was helpful to you!

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  8. Thanks so much for this article! You gave great advice, the entire article was well written (super eloquent) and I love your voice!! Best of luck to you in your writing career! I'll be sure to watch for your name on the bestseller's list! :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Lexi! I'm glad you liked it. I'd like to make the bestseller's list someday, but it will probably be a while before I can even get published, so I hope you don't mind waiting. ;) Encouragement like this is the fuel I need to keep going, though, so thanks for taking time out of your day to read my article and share your thoughts on it. Best of luck to you, as well, writing friend! I hope my three tips help you take one more step toward accomplishing your own goals.

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  9. Fantastic job, Olivia! I won't forget this lesson and am so grateful you chose to share it with all of us! Keep writing, girl. You have a gift.

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    1. Thank you, Mrs. Dittemore! And don't worry; I will definitely keep writing. ;)

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  11. So awesome! Love this.. I haven't ever directly compared my writing to my music.. but them, it doesn't seem do foreign either. Lol. I tell people I like to write so that the words are beautiful and stirring, make you think and change on your own, kind-a thing.. and I guess music does that, too. Both, together, if subtle yet forceful enough, can change the world ;)

    keturahskorner.blogspot.com

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    1. That's a beautiful mission statement, Keturah. I have had similar thoughts, but you summed it up so well. I'm so glad to hear you're into music, too. I think both music and writing are very personal experiences, the kind of thing that makes an audience member--after hearing/reading it--go speechless. It is such a privilege to have the opportunity to have that effect on someone! Of course, with that much power comes a great deal of responsibility (sorry, I can't help it if I'm a Spider-Man fan), but that's a topic for another day. :) Thanks for sharing, Keturah, and blessings as you progress in both your writing and your music.

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  12. This is a really cool perspective! I can definitely see music relating to writing like notes and other theory aspects relating to dialogue. ^ ^

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, Victoria!

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