1. Reis

    Reis Member

    May 5, 2010
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    Describing music.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Reis, May 25, 2010.

    Hi all,

    Well I've come across a slight problem with a work I would call a 'masterpiece' or just something I've given a lot of focus to with everything I have.

    Anyway, the idea I had in mind is using music as a kind of magical spell power. The world and time line is set in real world with a touch of fantasy but has an overall feel between cloak and dagger and live action. Nifty idea no?

    Now comes the kicker, during my first attempts I actually had a hard time figuring how to describe a particular kind of music especially when I'm not very well immerse into the definitions. How can a writer describe magic and music and make both sound so vivid in written words? I ended up doing links to youtube vids which becomes a ridiculous novel with visual aids.

    Another point to tackle, is that some of these spells aren't just 'convenient' and easy to pull off as ninja'ing and really requires strategical implements so these guys aren't just exchanging blows on each other back and forth. It maybe excusable for mooks but not the main villains.

    Otherwise, I find myself doing sue'ish characters.

    Any tips and help would be appreciated, thanks.
  2. squeakystrings

    squeakystrings New Member

    Apr 8, 2010
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    People listen to certain music because it puts us in a certain mood. Movies use soundtracks to goad the audience into feeling a certain emotion during dramatic scenes. Since music is so good at toying with emotions, the best way to describe music is to describe how the characters interpret or react to it. Is it sad, solemn, cheerful, upbeat, punchy, etc.? In short, the tone of the music itself.

    You could also describe the player(s). Some ideas: What face is s/he making? Is s/he concentrating on memorization or lightly improvising? According to the player's facial expressions, what does the character think the message of the music is? Maybe that message clashes with the message of the actual music being played. If this is the case, why? Does the player actually have something else on their mind?

    Maybe the sound can remind the characters of something visual, and then describe that. Notes quickly descending over and over again might remind someone of rain. You could also mix and match the senses. For example, maybe a character named Marty is sitting by the fireplace, poking at the burning wood, and someone goes to the other side of the room to play the piano. The narrator could compare the music being played to the fire (the mood it creates, or the way the melody moves vs the way the flames do). Or if Marty thinks the music sounds more like rain, he could think the smell of smoke is “wrong,” and instead thinks he should be smelling wet concrete. The way music is perceived and described is going to be all based on the character.

    Since in your story music is used to cast spells, there are other things you can think about, too. When the spells are cast, does anything else happen? Are there lights or colors or smells? If so, you could have some fun with that. (“The light twisted with the melody, and as the tension in the music hit its peak I was overcome and blinded by a flash of purple...”) Just a thought.

    NOTE: Even if your characters are musically inclined and theory-geniuses, the good news is your readers probably aren’t, and are on the same level as you.
    As a general rule, be careful when you're trying to describe technical things you're unfamiliar with. Throwing around music terms can confuse the readers who are less musically inclined, and for the readers who do know music, you may wind up inadvertently pulling them out of the story when they stumble on a description that doesn't quite add up. Long story short, I would say trying to describe music using the technical terms is out (which makes life easier for you because there are whole dictionaries devoted to musical vocabulary). On a similar note: even people who DO know the technical stuff don't usually describe music that way. No one comes out of a concert saying, "Oh that piece was lovely! But I do wish in the third movement they had augmented that A minor chord four measures from the caesura instead of diminishing it." (Well, they might if they're a composition major in grad school, but in that case they probably don’t have much time for leisurely reading, anyway.)

    That being said, there are some terms you will most likely need to use that most people are familiar with (and you may already be, but just in case):

    Melody: the main tune in a musical piece.
    Harmony: an accompanying line for the melody. There can be multiple harmonies (though one or two is typical), and the notes in the harmonies can be higher or lower than those in the melody.
    Bass: the low notes in a piece. Think cellos, string bass, tubas, or those guys who sing ridiculously low. It refers to anything low in pitch, not just obnoxious drivers and their subwoofers that rattle your teeth.
    Tempo: the overall speed of the music. Tempos can change during the song.

    But long long long story short, it’s probably better to describe the emotions and other senses affected by the music, and avoid the technical stuff. I hope this was helpful. :D
  3. Loup

    Loup Member

    Feb 14, 2010
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    I would say that in order to describe music you should listen to it a lot. But not in a careless mood, rather in a very attentive and focused way. Try to discern the different voices (as described above : bass, melody ...) and to feel touched by it. If you think of a song/melody/piece you particularly enjoy, I'm sure you won't have any difficulties in writing your feelings and the description of the play.

    Well, that's gonna to be difficult. I don't know how you want to do it, but a music piece lasts at least 1 or 2 minutes. The spells will be launched in a long period ...
    Good luck for your work !
  4. bigSQUISHY76

    bigSQUISHY76 Member

    May 20, 2010
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    San Diego California
    music as a form of magic


    Many stories use music as magic, even if it is only a few musical notes. It does not have to be a song. When you watch movies the music that is played is not only to set the mood but the sound effects many times are musical.

    Take for instance Tinker Bell in Peter Pan. No matter which movie or cartoon you watch the sound of her movement, spells and magic Dust are all musically based.

    Many witches, warlocks and enchanters invoke with some sort of musical chant. Even The Little Mermaid uses music as magic.

    I defiantly agree that you should use the inspiration that you get from the music that you like, or if you are targeting a specific audience then you might want to do a little home work into the current or time specific popular music for that group. Your environment may make a big difference in how you decide on the musical nature of the spell. I personally do not imagine hearing techno type music or sounds with fairy's floating through the forest.

    Another suggestion would be to look into magical music in folk lore and mythology. For instance Bards are described as poets, story tellers and historians but there songs and poems have been described as magical and inspired warriors and kings to many great things.

    The Sirens used their music and song to entice sailors to jump from ships into the ocean or to drive their ships into the rocks or shores. These are just a few ways I suggest that you compare what has been done with how you would like to convey your vision or description of your musical magic.

    I have yet to write anything myself but I do read allot. I hope this helped in some way!


  5. madhoca

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Dec 1, 2008
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    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Read 'Grace Notes' a novel by Bernard MacLaverty, first published in 1997. It's about a composer and has lots of amazing passages describing music. You can Google it and see.

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