Sunday, November 9, 2014

Word Music

Rosa Musicales
courtesy of  Wikemedia
It may be because I began my writing life as a poet that I fell in love the music of language. I suppose this is what we mean when we talk about voice. the kind of music you made in writing words and sentences.
     I revel in words that echo their meaning—calypso, ping-pong, jalopy, buzz—all sound like the things they represent. I love alliteration and assonance. Oh, I know it can be overused and overbearing, but when it’s done right it creates a kind of magic on the page. Consider these lines from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep.”  Can you hear the music in them, the resonance of d, b, p  like a baseline , the repeating of long vowels crooning ‘ooo, ooo, aa, eee,’ like backup singers? Or this line from Wild Geese, one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver “ Meanwhile, the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes.” Can you hear the clear pebbles as they tap against the window?  The soft  percussion of the s sounds, like a brush of rain against a wall?
     There is magic in the way words sound when you put them together into sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes, when writing stories, I forget about this. I am busy, after all, trying to put meaning into my story, I am trying to make the plot move forward, to create tension, to breathe life into characters. But I forget music at my own peril. If I’m not careful, the words begin to glop together like gum stuck to the sole of an old shoe. They become clanky and mechanical in the way they sound. Worse, they become lifeless and boring.
     The longer I work at this writing thing, the more I can play with the music of words and use them to underscore the writing. I can add mood with sound—“cold dark night” hits hard with single syllables and hard consonant endings, creating a kind of dissonance."Cool evening breezes” lilts softly and gently, with long vowels and is soothing as a lullaby. Letters become the notes on a scale. The possible combinations are endless.

            Do you think about the music of words when you write?

'Til next time


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Love this post, Ute. Words are music. All the great writers used music. Many had studied music, and the sounds and beats became embedded in their styles.

Ute Carbone said...

So true, Julie. I love reading a book and trying to figure out what the writer was listening to or thinking of music-wise.

Nikki said...

Excellent post, Ute. I don't think consciously about it when I'm writing, but because I came to prose from a songwriting background I'm very aware of rhythm and tempo, and of packing as much meaning as I can into every word. Thanks for pointing out an important, if subtle, element in writing.

Olga Godim said...

Great post, Ute. I agree, absolutely. I love beautiful language in the books I read. The trick is to utilize such an approach in my own writing. I keep trying and learning.

Big Mike said...

Yeah,I love rhythm to the words we write.The merging of romance, suspense and intrigue into an integral song of word and images can be amazing when done correctly.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)