Jump-start your writing with a study of creative forms in music. While music is a whole separate art medium, many forms can inspire written imitation and useful lessons for innovative works.

Structure

The form of a story should suit the content; it does not exist independent of the material. That said, sometimes playing with the internal patterns means opening up to more possibilities. Consider the symphony as an example. Generally speaking, a symphony has four parts (movements) of varying speeds (tempos) and certain forms. These can easily be described in a written story as types of conflicts, a variation on the act structure, or even a way to regulate themes. Though suitably general for application to a whole different art medium, this classical symphony form can be played with to great effect. (PDF of simple symphony form available here.)

  1. Fast tempo (spirited and full of energy)
  2. Slow tempo (gentle, lyrical)
  3. Medium/Fast tempo (often a kind of dance)
  4. Fast tempo (energy and passion)

Though less well known than the symphony, the fugue has a more complex structure that would take skill to apply, but has huge potential for writers who love powerful themes. When listening to (or playing) a fugue, a main theme is passed around to different portions of the orchestra, embedded carefully in a supporting web of melodic lines. In poetry, which stands strong halfway between music and narrative, this effect would be like encountering the same powerful phrase scattered in different lines of a series of stanzas, cropping up like a gorgeous silver trout leaps at different points down a river. Visually, as in a movie, a fugue would be like inserting a symbolically potent image in crucial moments, powerful contexts, and in subtle places just within frame throughout the film.

Purpose

Etudes were often composed then assembled in collections, then used as a compact study book covering several techniques and challenges. The etude here addresses rapid notes, complicated scales, and the musicality of the performer.

Sometimes tried-and-true structures are just what you need, but a purpose for the piece can energize the project. Anthems are a popular example. Rather than adhering to a strict classical form, an anthem is largely defined by its inspiration and purpose. It’s a song, yes, but one specifically written out of devotion, praise, and/or strong patriotism. Try writing a story as an anthem to something powerful in your life. Perhaps write a story about a cause that needs support, or a group that is commonly overlooked, even a challenge that’s not often discussed but is still very real.

Writing can be a purpose unto itself, as an etude (in both orchestral music and dance) is a piece designed to test and strengthen skill in a specific area. In the case of writing, however, you are both composing and practicing that technique at the same time. Writing prompts often take the form of an etude prompt. Many, in this age of flash fiction and micro fiction, ask for a certain kind of story “in # of words or less”. Others focus on using a single tool, like dialogue. For an excellent example of a study in dialogue, dust off your old literature textbook and reread Hills Like White Elephants. Write to practice a particular skill, and take time to polish it to perfection. It’s in those rewrites (or rehearsals!) that your skill increases.

Focus

Perspective is a hot topic with writers. Much of the work of telling a story is controlling where you shine the spotlight of attention. The concerto and concerto grosso address this issue for orchestral music, and are examples of sharing attention between the main character(s) and their supporting cast. While each movement differs, and themes, melodies, and tempos change as in any large piece, a concerto is set apart from other works in that the material is written with a soloist in mind. They’re not always written for a specific soloist (though that’s been done). A concerto highlights a specific instrument, couching beautiful solo passages with well-produced orchestral support. A concerto grosso, however, shifts the attention between different sections of the orchestra, passing the spotlight from the violins to the cellos to the flutes to the horns, etc. Narrative writers may see a parallel here with multiple-POV stories. Take a bit of time to listen to some pieces like these for inspiration.

Characters are not always the focus of a book, or even of a single story. Music is much more forgiving in terms of focus, allowing composers and musicians some freedom to deeply explore different aspects of music. The arabesque, as an example, is specifically named and written to be ornate. Detail, skill, and beauty come together to create something beautiful. For an example of a book that could accurately be called an arabesque, look at Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Unless your first language is Italian, or you’re very fluent, glance through an English translation to see if you like it. The book is a glorious thing, full of powerful visual ornamentation and emotional images.

 

While looking for ways to expand your writing skills, take a break from cycling over the same writing advice from different people. Take up a new interest and appreciate other art forms. Switch up your perspective on what it means to be creative, and dig up new approaches for your writing practice.

 

Links/Resources:

http://www.classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html

http://www.austinsymphony.org/visitor/glossary/

http://www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/glossary.htm

http://www.musicgenreslist.com/music-classical/

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