Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rhythm (And Blues?) of Writing

Music has been the theme of the last few weeks, and I've been thinking about the musicality of writing. For there is more to the meaning of words than the rational and symbolic, as the rhythm and sway and sound of a string of words has its own meaning, its own text open for interpretation.

Words are symbols, really, markers for meanings either concrete or abstract. They are rational. They are parcels of compact messages, communicating specific ideas, signifiers for something in the real world. Yet their impact telescopes far beyond this, affected by the tone and sound of the words themselves.

And sound is not entirely accurate, for often words are read silently. Yet, even still, they create a sort of mind sound, a sonic impression, an imagined voice. And if the rational message is in the direct symbolic reference of the words, their emotive strength is often found in this mind sound, this strange audio-visual interpretation of the texture of words and sentences.

This is what we want, isn't it, if we want to make art out of our words? Yet how difficult, how challenging, to find the bluesy soul of sentences. How do we wed the rational meaning with the emotive tone and rhythm of language?

What is it about a comma here, or a comma there, that shapes the felt impact of words? The sound and flow of a line as a sort of instrumental background beyond the voice of a singer. The sad wail of a trumpet, the deft flutter of a flute, the drums sounding in some deep cavern of the world and singing of the slow march of continents.

What is the music of writing to you? How do you find the sound of your writing? What do you want from the music of your words?


D.G. Hudson said...

One of my first attempts at writing had references to songs that seemed to fit what was happening to me at that point in my life.

Perhaps musicality of the written word comes forth when we write without restraint. For me the flow is different than that achieved with poetry (especially since I liked Ginsberg's variety, not trad).

I've posted about words and songs on my own blog mainly because I feel those are very important to the creative spirit. We attach memories to words and to music. We enrich ourselves when we integrate music into our lives.

The Blues of writing -- when the music and the words clash.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't know - after reading your eloquent words, I'm feeling rather tone-deaf...

M.A.Leslie said...

It scares me sometimes that I know the tune, but I am playing the song in the wrong key. Or perhaps, I haven't really found the right instrument.

I do know one fact, I feel like a kindergarten cellist speaking to Yo-Yo-Ma.

Jayme Stryker said...

Sometimes I select words for their sounds, and I openly admit to loving alliteration.

Emily White said...

Bryan, you always post what I'm thinking. :)

I think this is why I must listen to music when I write. Having background music helps me to see my words weave in and out in a sort of symphony.

jbchicoine said...

I love your analogy here. I've always wished my writing could move a person the way music does.
I have to say though, your writing often has that effect on me (just sayin')

Jessica Bell said...

This is something I ALWAYS strive for. It's one of the most important things to me. I want my prose to sing! I guess it's because I have a musical background, though. I'm not sure every writer thinks like that. BTW, this post sings pretty damn good, too :o)

Donna Hole said...

Its all about the flow, the way the words fit together, the pacing.

I like your concept: the musicality of writing. Eloquent.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I agree with DG about musicality coming in word form when we write without restraint.

And I agree with MA that this piece feels like Yo-Yo-Ma playing.

I still get the shivers when I think of wanting my words to be art. I'm a recovering engineer, so art still seems unobtainable, something that others do, not me. On a good day, I'll acknowledge that art is an intrinsic thing that every human does when they create, and that I am a creator. On a bad day, I'm convinced that musicality will never be within my grasp.

But I'll keep coming around, listening to your music. :)

Matthew Rush said...

Every single sentence has a rhythm, a cadence, a beat and a melody to it. If it is written well it may even have a harmony to it. Whether you pay attention to it or not, it's there. It can be beautiful and it can be ugly. It can be moving and it can be devastating. It can be purposeful or it can be accidental, but it always is.

Of all the writers I know, you're one of the best at staying conscious of this. I've thought about it all my life, and cared about it too, but it doesn't always come as naturally as I would like.

lori said...

This is really great. I often think of songs that go with scenes I am writing. I think I would like to have a soundtrack to books, but I don't know how that would go over. :) I love this line, "how challenging, to find the bluesy soul of sentences." When that soul is found it is wonderful.