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Writing with music: A symphony of words

Writing and music

( This post was first published on Write Blab)

I first listened to Outro while watching a television series on Netflix. The song pops up at the end of the first episode, at a momentous juncture when our protagonist loses a close friend.

The song meshed well with the emotional heft of the scene.

It sounded reasonably good as well. I added the song to my playlist and forgot about it.

A few weeks later, during a boring day at work, I was tuned in to my earphones. Then comes along Outro again.

In my blank mind, I suddenly start visualizing a scene from my WIP. I begin to imagine smart, crisp dialogues which otherwise escape me when I’m actually writing.

The most amazing character arcs, backstory ideas, twists, and neat endings start coming to mind.

All this in four minutes and seven seconds. I put the song on repeat and start to reinforce the themes in my head.

I don’t note down anything (I have never been a note taker when it comes to ideas. Time is a great filter). I get lost in my story and start to find all the flab in my story. The unnecessary and lavish backstories of less consequential characters are finally being exposed.

More important characters, more promising subplots start to emerge.

This wasn’t the first time I had such an experience.

These episodes are fairly common for me. Most of my ideas come when I am listening to music. The right song at the right moment makes me significantly more creative and open.

Is this nature conspiring to create a perfect symphony literary symphony in my head?

Decoding music with mathematics

Music almost seems too abstract to be ground down to mathematics. It is only when we start seeing music at a molecular level that we realize one simple truth: music is collection of sound frequencies that work well together.

As someone who loves music, this definition does sound offensive.

Take for instance this piece of writing from Yuval Noah Harari. To put this in context, Harari is trying to imagine a world where an artificial intelligence is able to create unique and personalized music for each person based on their preferences.

In the not-too-distant future, a machine-learning algorithm could analyze the biometric data streaming from sensors on and inside your body, determine your personality type and your changing moods, and calculate the emotional impact that a particular song — or even a particular musical key — is likely to have on you

Yuval Noah Harari, The Mozart in the Machine

You can choose to disagree with Harari. The point is this: there are some songs which hit home and some which don’t.

We like some type of songs because of our past experiences. The lyrics and overall rhythm resonates with something in our mind.

For writers, this extends to the setup of their story as well. Some songs are meant for some characters. Some songs are meant for certain types of situations.

With enough mathematics, we can make these jumps in logic and draw a straight line between music and storytelling.

Emotions can be viewed on a molecular level as a form of neural reaction. Music triggers emotions. Emotions build characters and plots.

Do you need to care?

No, not really.

I never said you should care. It is just an interesting thing to think about.

There is already too much standardization in storytelling these days. You should let your mind run free rather than worrying about music and mathematics while writing.

It is however interesting to see how great works of art mesh music and storytelling together.

Twin Peaks is a great example of music and storytelling matching.

The title track is dreamy, dangerous, and most of all, innocent. It brings together all the themes we see at play in Twin Peaks across the three seasons.

Here’s Angelo Badalementi explaining how he created Laura Palmer’s theme:

The visual David Lynch paints for Angelo helps him setup the song perfectly. This is a brilliant example of meshing music with storytelling.

This beautiful collaboration is cemented by a stream of mathematics and numbers underneath.

In a symphony, every part must work. Every great piece of storytelling must thus have a musical element too. Good mathematics just happens automatically.

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