The Importance of Poetry & Music
I know I write a bit about the importance of the soundtracks for my books, but there’s a reason for that. Poetry – the lyrics that shape the direction of the feelings being evoked by the instruments and tune that they ride on – makes or breaks a song for me. And when used well in an accompanying soundtrack, those lyrics can develop undercurrents of meaning and energy, and even deliver secrets about the characters or plot.
I’ve spoken about how I carefully match each song to the chapter it heads, and I’ve even mentioned that certain songs remind me of specific characters – basically, their theme songs. But I also pick songs for lyrical content that reflects what’s happening in that chapter, or in some cases, what’s happening concurrently in the plot but isn’t the main focus at the time. It’s one of my favorite ways to add layers to to the tale.
Here, have a listen:
When Justin begins describing the sky, and how he can feel the dark and how cities and deserts are the same, I always find myself holding my breath, tears building behind my eyes. It’s such a strong, meaningful bit of imagery, a scene painted out in an economy of words that somehow never fails to put me right in that moment.
My personal understanding and meanings behind the song changed recently when it became a song that represents how one of my characters, Sousa, relates to Vali and his relationship with her. That deepened the resonance of the lyrics, which were already heavy with personal feelings for me.
Before I was writing novels, I was a poet. To build a series of emotional responses from a carefully crafted stack of words and concepts, each creating a connection of thoughts that paint a picture or represent a feeling or concept is a heart-skill. Poems look easy to those who do not write them, and poetry crafted into meaningful lyrics even more so. Lyrics require a deft hand and the ability to transmit a sentiment or trigger a response with less words, carefully entwined with the music in a way that increases the emotional punch. Lyrics removed from music often look simple or trite, because removing them from their scaffolding weakens their effect.
As someone who uses lyrics in my novels, that presents an interesting challenge. I write my own lyrics. They do have music that goes with them, but not transcribed or recorded, and at this juncture I’m not interested on taking that task on. So when I write about The Drawback performing and I include lyrics, I risk them coming off as overly simple – bad poetry. But they are missing that aforementioned scaffolding, so my job as a writer is to describe what sounds and sentiments are supposed to be there as support, so that the reader can imagine them in their mind. If I’ve done my job well, the reader should get an immersive mental experience bolstered by their imagination and the imagery I’ve conjured up.
It’s always a risk that it won’t work. But when it does, you – the reader – will feel that music, even though there’s none to be heard, and the emotional content of the lyrics will have the proper punch.
When you put on your favorite music that has lyrics, how does it make you feel? What effects you the most in the track, and why do you come back to that track time and again? What song would you insist must be on your personal soundtrack, and why?
Now take those questions and apply them to your favorite stories and characters, and see what you come up with. It is such a fun exercise, and it can give you interesting insight into characters and parts of the storyline you might have never paid attention to before! I’d love if you shared some of those pairings in the comments, here or on Facebook. Go forth and listen with a new focus!