I often joke that the most difficult part of writing fiction is whatever aspect I happen to be tackling at the moment – first draft, character development, crafting meaningful dialogue, or revealing setting through character interactions with it, and the list of writing challenges goes on. But today’s “most difficult” part of crafting fiction is pacing and rhythm. It’s a challenge to look at the big picture of a completed draft novel-length manuscript and see where the reader could use a break from the tension, or where the pace might be lagging and the reader is likely to start skimming pages. The author is too close the prose and may not be able to detect those nuances without a sixth sense for it. Even in a shorter passage, it may be a challenge to spot when the prose in a narrative description might benefit from an added “beat” to improve the rhythm of the voice.
One of the workshops I attended at the Silken Sands Writer Conference was called The Subliminal Writer with Laura Hayden. The focus of her presentation was on using music to train your mind to stay in the story – choosing a soundtrack of songs that fit the mood of your story. In a Pavlovian-style, train your behavior to get your head in the game each time you hear the music. She used soundtracks from movies for her examples, recognizing how much work goes into scoring films to set the proper mood as the plot unfolds.
This made my wheels start to turn—dangerous, I know! Soundtracks of movies are so carfully scored to set tone, build emotion, heighten tension, and build or break suspense. Ultimately, the score PACES the plot as it unfolds.
Here’s my idea. I think I’m going to play around with this concept. I’ll choose a movie soundtrack. Then I’ll analyze the pacing of the music from start to finish, taking note of the following: 1. sequence of sounds and music; 2. how much time the soundtrack hums along as white noise in the background; and 3. the placement and amount of time spent on the intense, enhanced, or exaggerated sound effects and musical accents.
From here, I’ll take this data and extrapolate a rhythm to write a story with the same pattern of emotional melodies—only in prose.
I’m in the early stages of exploring this idea. I’m curious about your reaction. More importantly, I’m open to suggestions for your favorite soundtracks, so I can narrow down what soundtrack I should use for this exercise!
Leave your soundtrack suggestions for me, please. It’s all Fodder for Fiction!
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction