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‘A trickle of notes can flood your thoughts with broken things’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Warren FitzGerald
My guest this week has studied music more closely than some. His previous artistic incarnation was a rock singer – both with a band of his own and performing as a session vocalist to vast venues. (If you’re very good, we’ll include a video of him so you can see for yourself.) Now he has settled into an artform of lower decibel, but he hasn’t left music behind. His latest novel, Tying Down The Sun, is the story of a kidnap in the Sierra Nevada and he used music to help him verbalise the landscape and to mark the plight of his captive characters as their ordeal wears on. He is Warren Fitzgerald and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
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One of the special pleasures of hosting The Undercover Soundtrack is the honesty of the writing. My guests are ready to delve into their innermost creative spaces and share the bare, exacting process of turning memories, experiences and feelings into stories. My guest this week is one of those writers who drew on raw times to create the novel she shares with us. Music helped her examine two tragic losses, with their conflicting emotions and struggling hours. The soundtrack is haunting and melancholic, but is also rakish and fun – Rod Stewart makes a welcome appearance as life recovers and warms up again. The author is romantic mystery novelist Anne Allen and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
Adele, Anne Allen, authors, Chris Rea, contemporary fiction, Dangerous Waters, deepen your story, Denis Quinn, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, family drama, fiction, Finding Mother, Fix and Finish With Confidence, grief, Guernsey, Guernsey Retreat, how to write a book, how to write a novel, hypnosis, hypnotherapy, Johann Pachelbel, loss, Medwyn Goodall, Michael Jackson, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, mystery, Nail Your Novel, Nina Simone, Philip Chapman, playlist for writers, Rod Stewart, romance, romantic mystery, Roz Morris, Terry Oldfield, The Undercover Soundtrack, tragedy, undercover soundtrack, Wings of the Morning, Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2012, Women Writers, women's fiction, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing from grief, writing from loss, writing to music
You could divide my Undercover Soundtrack guests into those who aren’t put off by lyrics and those who are. My guest this week is one of the latter. He says that music with lyrics is too domineering when he’s trying to write – but that orchestral or ambient electronic music sets his imagination free to roam. His novel is a quirky noir of dirigibles, automata, back alleys and a hardboiled hack (the bipedal journalistic sort, not an equine), and his central character was honed by long hours simmering with Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for The Dark Knight. He is Aaron Sikes and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
Aaron Sikes, Adrian Legg, ambient electronic music, authors, Chicago, Daft Punk, deepen your story, Desert Island Discs, DJ Fact.50, drama, entertainment, fantasy, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, Gods of Chicago, Hans Zimmer, having ideas, how to write a novel, Humphrey Bogart, Inception, instrumental, Joe Satriani, lyrics, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, noir, playlist for writers, publishing, Rewriting, Roz Morris, serialised fiction, serialised novels, serialising fiction, soundtrack, The Big Sleep, The Dark Knight, The Undercover Soundtrack, Tron Legacy, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
No matter how many of these Undercover Soundtrack pieces I post – and by now it’s nearly 300 – I still get a thrill from reading a new one. There is such pleasure in delving into the essence of a writer’s creative soul, to be reminded that what we are doing is taking the personal and making it an experience we can invite the reader into. This week’s is no exception. It begins with the writer’s mother-in-law having hallucinations that she is hearing opera – a typical occurrence for elderly women living alone with impaired hearing. Then we progress to a haunted child narrator, who is unabashedly the essence of her writer-creator. Her first novel was nominated for the Harold Ribelow Award and she teaches at UCLA. She is also a renowned psychic. Her name is Rochelle Jewel Shapiro and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, Die Fledermaus, Dr Victor Aziz, drama, entertainment, Harold Ribelow, Harold Ribelow Award, Jewel Shapiro, Kaylee's Ghost, mediums, Miriam the Medium, music, music for writers, music for writing, musical hallucinations, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, New York Times, playlist for writers, psychic characters, psychic constructs, Redbook, Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, Roz Morris, St Cadoc’s Hospital Wales, Tanya Davis, Tanya Davis Whether, the Dutch Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, The Undercover Soundtrack, TV GID, UCLA, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
My guest this week says she always begins a project by assembling a sequence of music tracks. To start with, she notices every word and note, but after a while they settle into a familiar environment – a mental writing room that claims her attention and tells her it’s time to immerse. The novel she’ll be sharing with us is set in 1938, so her soundtrack is a mix of her own favourite contemporary songs to help capture the mood, and then a lot of material from the period of her story to conjure the historical period. She is NYT bestselling thriller author Rebecca Cantrell, and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
A Trace of Smoke, authors, Berlin, Bertolt Brecht, Dagmar Krause, Dakota Staton, Desert Island Discs, drama, Emily Barker, Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo, entertainment, Hannah, Hannah Vogel, how to write a thriller novel, Joe Tesla thrillers, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Louis Armstrong, Macy Gray, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, mystery, mystery series, Nail Your Novel, New York Times, Order of Sanguines, Paul Whiteman, playlist, playlist for writers, Rebecca Cantrell, Roz Morris, The Blood Gospel, The Undercover Soundtrack, The World Beneath, thriller, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing room, writing to music
Once upon a time, a schoolgirl resolved to never be a slave to music. She says she is glad this promise never lasted, because she cannot imagine having a creative life without music to guide and inspire her. Her latest work is a historical novel for young readers about the story of cacao, and features a heady soundtrack of Lana Del Rey, Cirque du Soleil and Manish Vyas. She is multipublished author Birgitte Rasine and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, Birgitte Rasine, botanical and natural science, chocolate, Cirque du Soleil, Confession, creative life without music, Desert Dwellers, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, Guatemala, historical novel, Joe bunting, Kimba Arem, Lana Del Rey, Manish Vyas, Maya, Maya civilisation, Maya jungle, Maya ruins, Mesoamerican mythology, Mexico, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Professor Trance, rainforest, Roz Morris, The Serpent and the Jaguar, The Seventh Crane, The Undercover Soundtrack, The Write Practice, undercover soundtrack, Verse in Arabic, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music, xocolatl, YA historical novels, YA novels, Zoozil
This post was provoked by a tweet. I was working on Nail Your Novel 3 and tweeted that instead of writing ‘the three-act structure’ I’d written ‘the three-cat structure’. Keyboard possessed by Blake Snyder?
Teddi Deppner (@tmdeppner), who you might have seen commenting here from time to time, rejoined:
‘I sure would like to see alternatives to the 3-act structure. Especially for non-movie, non-novel storytelling.’ She elaborated:
‘I want to write serial fiction that offers an experience more like an ongoing TV show (instead of a novel)… I wonder how comic book writers structure their stuff? Maybe that would be similar, too…’
It happened I knew just the man…
‘Not sure that I do use 3-act structure. I just write each episode as it comes, like a TV show. Structure emerges, not planned.’
Darn! There I am, writing about structure for my next book, and I’m nearly trounced by my own team. Dave has always been sceptical of writing ‘rules’. I persisted…
‘But does the structure follow the 3-act pattern?’
‘In retrospect, you can see a 3-act structure in each season.’
3 and 4-act structure
In case you’re scratching your head, here’s a catch-up. Briefly, the ‘act’ structure is all about where you put crescendos and twists in your story. There’s a general pattern that turns out to be most satisfying to audiences – a major change at roughly a quarter in, then another one at the three-quarter point. That’s three acts. It’s also good to have another change at the halfway point, which actually makes four acts, but some people don’t count that so they call it three. Why three? It’s beginning, middle and end. Simple.
Whether you call it three acts or four, it works so well it’s been translated into a fundamental formula. Some writers use it to outline before they start. Some use it to troubleshoot – if the story feels flabby, you can tighten it by restructuring to fit this shape. If you have a long-running story with characters and plotlines that mature at different rates, you can construct each of the arcs so they hit those markers.
… and back to Dave. As I said, he’s wary of the idea of storytelling ‘rules’ or ‘principles’, preferring to write by instinct. Indeed he told me that many years ago, a friend came back from a writing course with news of a wondrous formula – this three-act thingy. Dave had never heard of it, and indeed had already published several books. However, when he investigated further, he found he’d structured them with the major crescendos and twists at the quarter points.
This is how it is with writing – or any art. We all understand some aspects innately. For others we find it helpful to be shown a rule or a principle. In my case, I understood structure and pacing from the get-go. I struggled, though, with ‘show not tell’ and needed a good bit of nagging to grasp it.
Thanks for the pic, Sandy Spangler
(So yes, I am working on Nail Your Novel 3, which will tackle plot. It doesn’t have an official title yet, nor a release date, but if you’re interested, sign up for my newsletter. Other Nail Your Novel books can be found here)
And in the meantime…
Which writing rules do you find easy and which do you find difficult, either to grasp or to accept?
3-act structure, 4-act structure, authors, Blake Snyder, comic book writers, deepen your story, entertainment, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, four-act structure, having ideas, how to outline a story, how to plot, how to plot a novel, how to structure a story, how to write a book, how to write a novel, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, novels, Plot, publishing, revising, Rewriting, Roz Morris, Save The Cat, show not tell, story structure, Teddi Deppner, three-act structure, troubleshoot your novel, troubleshoot your plot, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel
My guest this week says that when he writes he chooses his aural environment carefully. There’s a cafe in his native Montreal that plays just the right music: not too loud, not too unfamiliar; exactly right for random creative loosening. He attributes one of his major characters to a chance playing of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade on Winter while he was driving on a midsummer day – the sudden meteorological transformation was exactly what he needed to start creating this pivotal player. He is YA writer JB Dutton, and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
Arcade Fire, authors, Blondie, Cirque du Soleil, Dalek-Beatles mixtape, Desert Island Discs, Doctor Who, Doctor Who 50th anniversary, entertainment, Ernest Hemingway, fantasy, JB Dutton, John Dutton, major character, male writers, Meat Loaf, Montreal, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Rd 2 Nowhere, Roz Morris, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, serialised novels, serialising fiction, Silent Symmetry, Simon and Garfunkel, Talking Heads, the Beatles, The Beatles Creating, The Beatles LOVE, The New Sense, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, William S Boroughs, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music, young adult novels
I was so delighted when I found out my guest this week writes to music. She’s the winner of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) with a story of genetically enabled time travel, death threats and romance. She says music is her writing cave and time machine, shutting out the modern chaos of family life, rewinding her to times in her own past and conjuring up periods like the 1893 Columbian Exposition. She is Rysa Walker and she’s on the Red Blog with the Undercover Soundtrack to Timebound.
1893 Columbian Exposition, A Fine Frenzy, ABNA, ABNA winner, Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, authors, background music, Chicago World Fair, Chronos Files, death threats, Desert Island Discs, fantasy, fantasy series, Ferris wheel, friends, John Philip Sousa, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, Rysa Walker, science fiction, Scott Joplin, series, Star Trek, teen characters, teenagers, The Fratellis, The Jody Grind, The Section Quartet, The Shins, The Undercover Soundtrack, The voice, time travel, time travel romance, Timebound, Twisted, undercover soundtrack, Vampire Weekend, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
I post 4 to 5 useful writing links per day… and other stuffMy Tweets
- How to make an audiobook using ACX April 13, 2014
- ‘A trickle of notes can flood your thoughts with broken things’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Warren FitzGerald April 9, 2014
- An easy way to make your plot plausible – control your novel’s timeline April 5, 2014
- ‘Tragedy and loss are cornerstones of my story’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Anne Allen April 2, 2014
- How many words do you write a day? And do you have to force yourself? How successful authors do it March 30, 2014
- ‘Pictures in melody’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Aaron Sikes March 26, 2014
- 7 essentials for writing a good novel – notes from the Undercover Soundtrack March 24, 2014
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See what I did there…