Guest Blogger David Beem – A Musician Writes
You know that awesome guy I’ve been raving about on here? You know, the one I stated Escapistpress with? The one who is writing that awesome book Abyss of Chaos (Coming September 2011)? Well finally, despite my desperate pleading and undying love for him, he has conceded to writing a guest blog for this here blog! And so without further adu here is David Beem.
Consonance and Dissonance
By David Beem
I love finding similarities between writing and music. The journey of reinventing myself as an author is packed with borrowed elements of mastery. Consonance and dissonance are perfect examples of two such components. In the writer’s utility belt, we work with these tools through composition, but seen through the eyes of this cellist-turned-author, they look awfully similar to elements I used to work with in concert halls all over the world.
|Even Freddie loved his awesome sauce
In tonal music, classical, pop and everything in between, dissonance is a performer’s awesome sauce. String players (my bias) build all their juicy slides around it. They may structure rubato around it (for the non-musicians, that’s when you slow down, then speed up for expressive reasons), they may nail a dissonance with a hard attack, or do just the opposite and lean on the dissonant note lovingly.
If you’re a composer, the juxtaposition of dissonance and consonance can tell a story every bit as vivid as the written word. Go listen to Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration and try to measure anyone’s words against his rendition of “transfiguration.” Or better, try listening to Beethoven’s 9th without wondering if you just heard the voice of God when the music depicts Elysium.
Beethoven is one of the most written
about musicians in history.
Beethoven and Strauss understood something every great writer also knows. The subject of transfiguration and Elysium are tricky because of their implied consonance. After all, what’s better than paradise? Eternal peace, right? In theory, it should be rife with consonance. But that would totally suck to listen to, and it would totally suck to write your poem/story/novel that way.
(FACT: By the way, do you remember Richard Donner’s 1977 Superman? You know the love theme? Total rip off. Lots of movie soundtracks are; it’s the nature of the biz, and it’s cool. But this rip off was Strauss’ Transfiguration motive.)
You may know Richard Strauss’ music better than you think.
Now, I don’t have to go all music theory on you to explain that Beethoven and Strauss didn’t suck. The fact that you’ve even heard of them is impressive when you consider that attending classical music concerts is roughly as popular as earning a college degree. I mean, these guys have been dead for a while, right?
(FACT: Beethoven died in 1827, Strauss in 1949 – proving that even the classical cellist knows how to use Wikipedia.)
Writing a compelling story is all about going to uncomfortable places. We’ve all heard it said: Imagine the worst thing that could happen to your main character, and do it them. Then make it worse.
In fact, we’ve been listening to that dictum for so long, many never stop to wonder why the need for that advice in the first place? I mean, what the hell? Dissonance is awesome! Why should the novice writer be doomed to the doldrums of consonance? Why would any writer have an instinct to create something so . . . boring?
In a word: technique.
The newbie writer might love to write about death and transfiguration but can’t. He/she may love to write about a vision of Elysium, but can’t begin to imagine how to do it. It’s imaginative atrophy. Nevertheless, that imaginati
on muscle is the requisite ingredient of a compelling story.
Oh my God! You killed Kenny!
(FACT: Some South Park scripts go through 25 revisions before reaching the final draft. How many revisions does your novel go through?)
I’ve written a thriller, and I’ve given a bit of thought to the whole imaginative atrophy thing. Namely, the business of creating dissonance. My light bulb moment came when I realized how lazy my first draft was. It finally hit me that it wasn’t nearly enough to show the action of my heroes escaping a burning building, for instance. I also had to show how they nearly suffocated and took serious burns in the process. I had to drop the ceiling on someone, then have everyone fall through the floor. Someone’s leg gets impaled on a flaming spike below, and/or they take cover inside the overturned grand piano, but the strings snap and lash under intense heat. The more dissonance, the better, right?
Well, yes, but now you have to suffer alongside your main character as you drag him/her to the finish line, and this also requires technique. Dissonance has consequences. They’re not burned, stabbed, shot and nearly suffocated without slowing them down psychically and physically, so you’re going to have to grow some more as a story-teller to pull it off.
Or, I should say, I have to grow some more as a story-teller to pull it off. Look for Abyss of Chaos in September 2011, and thanks for reading!
David Beem is the author of Abyss of Chaos, a forthcoming supernatural thriller which chronicles the adventures of the cellist, Maxwell Sinclair, and his aging archeologist godfather, Dr. Phineas Monroe.