By David Flin
I’m not talking about background music that helps writing. It does, mind you. Not merely does it drown out other disturbing background noises, it can provide a typing rhythm. A word of advice: don’t use slow music as background, especially if you’ve got a deadline to meet. It can also help create a mood and, after a while, you might find that certain pieces of music get the mood right for specific pieces of work.
Background music is useful (Thin Lizzie’s The Boys Are Back in Town, if you must know), but that’s not what I’m going to talk about.
I intend to talk about a writing exercise. Writers practise. Like any performance-based endeavour, there’s a lot of practice involved. The great golfer, Gary Player, was once accused of being very lucky. He replied that the more he practised, the luckier he got. It’s the same with writing. The more you practise, the easier it gets.
I’ve also mentioned before that there is a rhythm in putting words together. There is a difference in emphasis and rhythm between “He was barely dressed” and “He was dressed barely.”
This rhythm is where music comes in. There’s a rhythm to music, and one little exercise I play about with from time to time is to take a piece of music, preferably one that already has words, and rewrite the words while retaining the tune.
An example? I thought you’d never ask. The idea is to take a well-known piece of music, and adapt it. In this example, I decided to use a well-known Australian melody (I’m using the term advisedly) Waltzing Matilda. Since I like to get Christmas cards written early, well, this is the result:
Once a jolly author tried his best to punctuate A Christmas song for his friends to see But the comma couldn’t cope with a common Spanish accent mark. Yule comma won’t sing my tilde with me.
I would like to apologise for that. That’s a lie, actually, but it’s customary to apologise for such things.
It is, however, good practice. What’s more, being able to generate such things gives you a sense of the rhythm of things, and this helps with getting words to flow. One exercise I once did was a little challenge I set myself, and that was to write a story about World War III entirely through the medium of modified songs. Unpublishable, of course, for copyright reasons, but it was a lot of fun. It traced
the course of the war (and it remains the only World War III story I’ve written in which anyone got hurt; I don’t take stories of WWIII very seriously) quite well.
Oh, all right. You’ve talked me into it. Just one verse, mind. This is adapted from Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run,one of the classics of rock. If you’re reading this, Boss, sorry.
In the day we’re sweating in the body of a cut-price American tank It’s built from the steel of the cheapest grade making suicide machines Stuck in boxes in the Fulda Gap Steel tracked, fuel injected, and breaking down all the time. H-Oh, Captain this tank rips the bones from your back It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap We gotta get out while we can ‘Cause tanks like these, Captain they were made to burn.
It’s just a bit of fun, but if you’re writing for pleasure, then whatever you write ought to be, above all else, fun to write. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.
What is more, it can be a source of ideas. For example, I got to wondering what might happen if JK Rowling had been listening the Pete Townsend’s Pinball Wizard. Hermione might have turned out slightly different.
I thought you’d never ask.
When I was first apprenticed, I broke my crystal ball; Wands and orbs and sceptres, I couldn’t use at all. But I ain’t seen nothing like her in any wizard’s hall That dense, dumb and blonde kid can’t cast a spell at all.
She’s a bimbo wizard, can’t do a single trick A bimbo wizard, how can she be so thick? Is there a spell she does right? I don’t know. Who could think she’s good?
She ain’t got no detractors, ‘cause she catches every eye, She casts a local levitate when she comes strutting by. She laughs and bats her lashes when they say: “Hermione wanna date?” That dense, dumb and blonde kid can’t cast a spell at all.
I thought that I was the worst that there ever were But now I’ve handed my Bimbo Crown to her.
The thing is, this sort of things makes the writer listen to the flow and rhythm of words, and each word has to be chosen to tell the story, and fit into the pattern, and make sense. I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy exercise, and I’m certainly not going to pretend it results in great literature. But as little warm-up pieces, they’re a lot of fun.
And isn’t that the point of writing?
David Flin is the author of the SLP books How to Write Alternate History, Six East End Boys, Tales from Section D, The Return of King Arthur and Other Alternate Myths, and Bring Me My Bow