Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eye of the Beholder

It was one of the nights that I spend with other parents who have also accompanied their children to ballet classes. Sometimes there's conversation, sometimes we've brought something to work on, sometimes both. For me, it's always both - I try never to ignore a nice chunk of writing time.

A new gentleman struck up a conversation. He's a musician and was 'scoring a play'. "A trivial thing," he said. "Favor for a friend."

I said that I was a writer and that I was working on the revision of my first novel. Surprisingly, he was interested in the process of composition as it applies to writing. I talked about flow, pacing, rhythm; and he saw it as very similar to melody, tempo and rhythm in music. I added that the concepts are generally applied to plot, but the best of us apply them to scenes or even sentence structure within scenes.

At one point, he looked over my shoulder at my scene notes and exclaimed, "Ah - but you're playing a duet!"

Of course, I had no clue what he meant. "Excuse me?"

"Your notations here - main plot, secondary plot - it is a duet, is it not?"

I was astounded. Of course he was right. Each of my scene notes includes which plots and subplots the scene addresses. He saw immediately what has been nagging at me since the beginning of my outlining process. I knew that flow, pacing, and rhythm were not the complete picture for this story. And here, in this chance conversation, the last piece of the puzzle was nearly in sight. I had to know. More accurately, I was dying to know. How could I make the two plot lines play well together? So I admitted my ignorance and listened to his explanation of how duets are written.

Among other things (that went way over my head), he talked about varying the dynamics of the two parts so that within the framework set by the melody, tempo and rhythm; each part is written as softer (piano, mezzo-piano, pianissimo or pianissimo possibile) or louder (forte, mezzo-forte, fortissimo or fortissimo possibile) depending upon which part is in the lead, which is in the background and what mood is being set at each point in the composition. I was fascinated.

Then with great enthusiasm, he said. "You can compose for a trio of plots - a quartet even!" Apparently my expression gave me away because he patted my hand and said, "But please understand - for a first novel, a duet is quite brave."

Brave? I didn't have the heart to tell him that I hadn't known any better.

#ROW80 update, 01/16/2011:

  • Goal 1: Well I'd like to say that I've completed revision artifacts (outline, scenes and map) through chapter thirteen - but I can't. One chapter got eliminated last week - but one got added this week, so I'm on chapter twelve. Still nine more chapters to go. Reading it critically, I could see that I had compressed the story. There wasn't enough there so I added it.
  • Goal 2: Averaged about three hours per day this week so doing better there. I had to really, because of the extra chapter.
  • Goal 3 -Still posting!
Two weeks down...


  1. That was a fortuitous meeting. I never knew music and fiction writing could be so similar. Thank you, I got some ideas from this that may help my own writing.

  2. You're welcome. I'm glad it helped. The information was fascinating.

  3. Magic! Life can really surprise you with times of synchronicity.

    Artist friends, including a sculptor, often speak of processes that are similar to writing as well.

    And yes sometimes ignorance/naivety is bliss :)

    Another great post, Cathryn.

  4. Cathryn, I love and appreciate your openness to your world, both mental and physical. So much the writer you draw us in, next thing we know we really like you AND we're learning. Who does that? (laughing...)

  5. Hi Anne! Thanks for stopping by. Sometimes bliss, sometimes a way to learn to swim :)

    Thank you Daniel, and for linking back. I visited your blog. Your post about how publishing is changing is very insightful.

  6. I appreciate how eloquently you describe the foundational thoughts that work behind the process of writing, whether they make their way into what we right by accident or design. Putting them into a musician's vocabulary make them speak that much louder. It gives me thinking fuel as I forge ahead with my own projects.

  7. That was beautifully written. I enjoyed reading it.

  8. Fantastic encounter! Love when life happens like that. :) You are moving forward at such a rapid pace. You might not feel that way, but it feels that way to me.

  9. I also enjoyed this post - it's given me something to think about, but what a random encounter. :)

    Well done on the progress!

  10. Thanks all, I'm glad you enjoyed it. You never know what can come of a random conversation. :)

  11. Wonderful post! You got lots accomplished this week. Good luck in week 3.

  12. Random conversations are some of my favorite. :) I hadn't thought about it, but compositions of all flavors have so many similarities... Hope you have a great week ahead! :)

  13. Interesting post. The fellow schooling you in duets came off as a bit condescending, however. Yikes!

    But a fully entertaining post.

  14. Thank you Stacey!

    I agree Cricket, you never know what you can learn.

    Craig, I didn't mean to portray him as condescending. He was actually very polite. I'll have to read through and see what I can do better next time.

  15. Oh, what a wonderful conversation! I'm so happy that you shared it with us. :)
    Well done on the writing, and keep it up, all aspects of it. You may not add a big word count, but everything else that you are doing is just as important.

  16. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for your encouragement.


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