1. OurJud

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,380
    Likes Received:
    1,118
    Location:
    England

    The use of music in literature

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Sep 18, 2016.

    I think we can all agree how effective this works in film (for the simple reason we hear it) but how about in fiction. Can it work on any level?

    For the last couple of days I've been writing a section of my novel set at an open-air music festival. Because the festival is a celebration of 50s rock'n'roll, I've had a youtube playlist of skiffle, rockabilly / hillbilly music playing, and it's really helped me paint the scenes.

    My worry, though, is that this just won't come across to a reader, unless by some huge coincidence they just happen to be listening to similar music at the time.

    I know that as writers we should never try and force, or even expect, a reader to share the same thoughts and feelings we have when writing a piece, but it would be nice to think we can summon a stimulating experience, at least, and I wonder how much the music here plays a part in my own enjoyment of the scene, given, as I say, I was listening to the same stuff on youtube as I wrote it.
     
  2. Earp

    Earp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2016
    Messages:
    317
    Likes Received:
    281
    That's a tough one. I suppose you could have the characters remark on the music, but that kind of thing can, and usually does, seem forced and artificial. Given the ubiquity of tablets and phones being used to read, it seems like we should have developed a genre of fiction-with-sound-effects by now, though timing things to accommodate different reading speeds would be an issue.
     
    I.A. By the Barn and OurJud like this.
  3. tonguetied

    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 23, 2014
    Messages:
    568
    Likes Received:
    230
    Location:
    Central Florida: land of fire and sand
    I think the problem with incorporating music with the book as you read it would be the right to use aspect. Just like you wouldn't want someone using your story without compensation to you the music artists would want their fair share. Now maybe there is an angle if the reader has their own legal playlist on the device that a song could be played if it matched your list. One of the legal eagles like Steerpike will probably give us some good information on this.

    It seems that I have read many stories where the music being heard in the background is mentioned as part of the setting. I would not expect the characters to mention it unless it was something special to the character or might be said to break the ice with someone they just met, etc. However to get that "feeling" that music brings just mentioning it probably doesn't do the trick. It is almost magical when a movie plays music that really matches the feeling of the scene but that only seems to happen part of the time which I would suspect is simply because it is the director's choice (or whomever makes that decision) and their idea of what music would seem best simply doesn't match my own.
     
  4. OurJud

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,380
    Likes Received:
    1,118
    Location:
    England
    But surely it works because you're actually hearing it??

    Also, can I put the idea of having some kind of interactive music system in place to bed, right here and now? This is not what I'm suggesting.

    Perhaps the one thing I dislike when it comes to using music in writing, is when the author shares a verse or two with us. I always skip this because it doesn't really work even if you know the song, and if you don't know the song, then it's just like reading random poetry.

    However, without wanting to get all defensive, I'm not really sure how telling the reader a skiffle band were playing on stage, at a 50s rock'n'roll' festival, sounds forced and/or artificial..
     
  5. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    766
    Likes Received:
    765
    I have a little background on this as one of my WIPs has a modern rock superstar as one of the MCs, so I have a lot of musical references.

    According to my publisher, you can legally use band names and/or song titles without getting into copyright problems, just not actual lyrics. So it's okay for me to write: "Jayden started playing one of the first songs he'd every learned on the guitar; Good Riddance by Green Day." But if I were to have Jayden pick up his guitar and start singing, "Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road..." then I'm getting into copyright infringement.
     
    xanadu, tonguetied and Sal Boxford like this.
  6. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2016
    Messages:
    662
    Likes Received:
    405
    I never read lyrics in books. I never know the tune and I'm not interested in just lyrics. Plus, I'm just not interested in singing when I just want to read, but I'm also not a music fan. I find it's enough when the author just says "gentle music floated across the dance floor" or something to that extent. I can better picture music I made up in my head than music the author made up or bands they mentioned that I don't know. If I read your book and you mentioned a 50's rock band I didn't know, I'd probably just picture the Beach Boys or some random heavy musical instruments (I have no idea what 50's rock music was like) I've heard on TV. It'd be fine either way.
     
    tonguetied and OurJud like this.
  7. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    7,048
    Likes Received:
    3,684
    Good topic. To echo Earp, this is certainly a hard one. I get what you're talking about, and I absolutely have music that I listen to for some of my scenes.

    I think we just have to let it go. You probably can't force a reader to feel what you're feeling. Make the scene what you can and then leave it to the reader.
     
    tonguetied and OurJud like this.
  8. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll I tell you story, yes...:P Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    6,306
    Likes Received:
    3,961
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    You could always simply describe it, or flat out state what kind of music is playing. With a little imagination you can figure it out.
    You could even have the lyrics being sung littering throughout the whole scene if you want. All you have to do is think outside the proverbial box.
    Be as descriptive as you want with it, if you think it will help in some fashion. It is only a little harder than writing say the clack of a door latch,
    or the sharp clicking of heels on a tiled surface.

    As for the feels part, have the character react to a particular song or lyric in some way.
    Show us how he feels by his expression, body language, etc. Bit of an alternative to
    having him outright blurt how it makes him feel emotionally about the music.

    Now think it out and play around with it for a bit, and make us proud. You got this!
    Visualize then actualize, then write it on the page.

    Good luck, and all the best. Write it like a Boss!:cheerleader:
     
    tonguetied, Elven Candy and OurJud like this.
  9. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    7,048
    Likes Received:
    3,684
    I disagree. Music is it's own art form. I think it would be unwise to try to replicate the exact feelings a song can achieve through literature, because they're two vastly different mediums. I say this as a reader who has almost never been impressed when lyrics and music are incorporated into a scene.

    An exception to this would be the fictional song "Little Carmen" from Lolita (you guessed it). Also Tombadil's song from Fellowship of the ring, and the poems from Satyricon. But these are all fictional songs by very accomplished writers.

    If you include a full or nearly full song that is performed by someone else in real life, I'm almost definitely going to think you're really lame.
     
  10. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll I tell you story, yes...:P Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    6,306
    Likes Received:
    3,961
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    @123456789 Well aren't you just a peach of picky. :p

    Fictional song good, real song bad?! o_O

    Personally I haven't really read anything that even hints at music. While yes they are two different mediums, does not mean that you cannot incorporate one into the other.
    I suppose the person writing about a character who paints is just as wrong? Mixing two different mediums in a story, stop the presses. Who would ever dream of such things?!


    Well you sir are quite perplexing in your ways. Most perplexing indeed...:superthink:
     
  11. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    7,048
    Likes Received:
    3,684
    I don't mean writing about music, I mean using words to evoke the feelings that music evokes.
     
  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll I tell you story, yes...:P Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    6,306
    Likes Received:
    3,961
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    I feel only slightly a fool. Perhaps you should have lead with that.
    Being impressed with lyrics, and said eliciting an emotional response
    are just a tad off base from each other. That is where my confusion
    in your oddly worded post, threw me off.

    My apologies. :)
     
  13. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    7,048
    Likes Received:
    3,684
    From my original post- "I think it would be unwise to try to replicate the exact feelings a song can achieve through literature,"
     
    Cave Troll likes this.
  14. OurJud

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,380
    Likes Received:
    1,118
    Location:
    England
    Thanks everyone.

    For what it's worth I certainly agree with 123... regrading lyrics. Here's my reasoning in an earlier post:
    I wasn't so much struggling with this scene or looking for advice, but I did wonder if there's a possibility I might have been enjoying writing it more than someone would reading it, because A, I'm familiar with the music. And B, I was listening to it at the time.

    Again, like 1234... says, I just need to write it to the best of my ability and let the reader picture it as they please.
     
    Elven Candy likes this.
  15. xanadu

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    648
    Likes Received:
    507
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    One of my novels is essentially about music--the lead characters play music and listen to music constantly, as that's the central theme of the story--so my case may be a little different, but I definitely understand the desire to reflect the music of the scene in the description of it. I guess it depends on how integrated the music is to the scene--is it just background noise, or do the characters actually react to it (whether internally or externally)?

    While you don't want to write a concert review (necessarily), you may benefit by reading critical reviews of concerts or albums to get a sense of how people describe music and sounds in words, where you can't actually hear it yourself. The narration can potentially reflect some of those descriptors, and if the characters are reacting to the music, they can add their own as well.

    You can also just state what song is playing and leave it as an Easter egg for readers who are familiar with it.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  16. OurJud

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,380
    Likes Received:
    1,118
    Location:
    England
    Thank you @xanadu - there's no concern with authenticity here. I'm not claiming to be a 50s rock and roll historian or anything, but I've been part of the stage lighting crew at an annual, open air festival of this type for many a year now, so I know what goes on there and how the music sounds.
     
    xanadu likes this.

Share This Page