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Random Thursday: A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody...

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 13:45

...but a good novel is more like a symphony. Or an opera.

Musical metaphors for story structure have been somewhat on my mind while writing Mother of Souls. One reason, of course, is the centrality of music as a transformative force within the plot. But more than that, I've been thinking about all the different types of emotional structure that can work effectively in a large-scale composition. One of the reasons it's been on my mind has been the suggestion that Mother of Souls needs to come out of the gate with more drama, more peril, more tension.

Starting a symphony off with a bang can work really well. Think about those famous first four notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony. Grabs you, engages you. The piece backs off later only to return for a ringing finale. Another favorite example of mine of starting with a bang is Dvorak's "Carnival Overture". Grabs you and keeps going. I listened to the Carnival Overture a lot while writing the final chapter of Mother of Souls. I wanted the climax of the book to make a reader feel the way I always feel as that piece finishes up.

But not every great piece of music starts with a bang. One beta-reader mentioned that the "Prelude" chapter of Mother of Souls reminded her a bit of the opening of Smetana's "Vltava", which has a similar theme of the sources of a river high in the mountains. There was another example I wanted to include here but although I can hum the piece from memory, I can't for the life of me recall the composer or name! Driving me crazy. Starts really slow, Subtle modulations in the bass. Builds so graduallly you barely notice until it's a pounding crescendo. Argh. If I ID it, I'll link. [ETA: see below]

Anyway. Sometimes you don't start out with cymbals and kettledrums. Sometimes it's cellos and a lonely oboe. You tease a little. Hint. Foreshadow. The kettledrums come out sometime in the second movement just briefly, then go back to counting measures of rest for a while. There's no one true shape for the music. Who wants every symphony to sound the same? Mother of Souls is not Beethoven's Fifth. I thought and thought and it just wouldn't work. But sit back and listen and I promise you, there will by cymbals.

ETA: Found it! I was thinking of the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony.