Saturday, August 27, 2011

Some help from "The Farmer's Daughter"

Hot damn. I downloaded Fleetwood Mac’s 1980 “Live” album; I bought the LP when it first came out so I knew what it's like. But I haven’t heard any of the tracks in several years and I’d forgotten what a tight, top-notch, truly professional band those guys were. Because this is my blog, I’m going to rave about it. --A little, and then I’ll connect it to writing. Really!

You’d think a live “Rhiannon” when Stevie Nicks’ vocal prowess was at its peak would be the point at which I lost awareness of the room and whatever I was doing. No, it was the two-and-a-half-minute rendition of “The Farmer’s Daughter”. It’s a simple, rhythm-laden version with vocal harmonies so flawless and sweet that I’m quite sure my eyes glazed over. I’ve always thought that song was something special, but since delving much more deeply into music when I got serious about writing my novel, I’ve become more acoustically sensitive, or something. I hear instruments I never knew were there, I feel things in songs that my ears don’t pick up (which I understand is what a lot of music producers intended), and generally enjoy what I listen to a whole lot more.

(And I know that plenty of people already appreciate music this way. I don’t mean to imply that I’ve acquired some special power, here.)

Find that song online, put on a kick-ass headset, and just listen. Guitar and bass whup up and down like rubber bands the size of the Earth. There’s a shaker hissing in there and Mick manages to thump the drums gently. I think it’s Lindsey, Stevie, and Christine singing. No one voice stands out. They blend so very perfectly it sounds like totally different people (at least to me). I put this on repeat and trance out. The overall tone is soft and breezy with a bit of wickedness from the rhythm section. It beats in my ears and my gut like my own heart.

Now, this sort of examination helps in my WIP, because I’m writing about musicians. There are times when the storytelling segues into “music telling”. I’d love to have readers click a button in the e-reader version of my book and hear the music as they read about it, but that probably ain’t gonna happen. Therefore, I have to write as clearly as I can especially about those parts so readers can hear something in their heads.

You can benefit from that sort of observing. Pay attention to how different people speak; you’ll hear different accents and cadences. This is endlessly helpful for tips on how to make your characters sound different from each other. Think about how you’d write out slangy speech, for example, and how much or little to change it so readers consider it unique but not annoying. Think about tone and timbre of voice.

An easier one is to study how people dress. Practice describing them. What is it about one person that draws your eye but not somebody else? Does one person seem to stand taller, move more confidently, project an air of meaning business? How detailed can you get describing that person? How much can you then cut out but still get across a basic of sense of the person?

Sharpen your ability to see unexpected connections between things. Study everything, no matter how small. The process as I describe it does rely on eyesight, but I am confident that sight-impaired people are just as capable of “looking at” things in unique ways. As a writer, you have a superpower—a potent imagination that can turn you into a fly on any wall.

I’ve never been backstage at a rock show. I’ve done some research, but it’s not easy for me to find out the sort of details that would make it sound like I hang around backstage all the time. So, I have to work harder. As I do research reading, I picture things in as much detail as I can. I grab everything I read and drop it into my muse’s Magickal Crockpot. It simmers together continuously underneath my conscious mind. When I sit down to write, stuff pops out of that Crockpot.

Music has a way of freeing our emotions and our minds. The next time you find you’re really stuck on a scene or on characterization, get out your i-pod or other portable music, queue up your favorites, and go people-watch. Become a sponge. Be alert to the interesting, the thought-provoking, the different, the beautiful. Feel impressions sink down into you. Eat, nap, repeat. You’ll know when your cauldron of impressions has a batch of “alphabet soup” ready to go!

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