Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes
 

Seven Blades in Black

Review

 
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver – Series Review
 

Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

Series Review

 
A Fantasy Geek’s Guide to YouTube: Vampires
 

A Fantasy Geek’s Guide to YouTube

Vampires

 

Rhythm and Time – Part 6: The Repeats and the Choruses

You can read the rest of this series here:

Part 1: Give Your Writing a Beat of Its Own
Part 2: Add a Little Harmony with Adjectives
Part 3: Dialogue as Your Rhythm
Part 4: Make Your Characters Sing
Part 5: The Rests

I have to tell you all—this has been a fun series. As an amateur musician, it was fun for me to revisit my old lessons and apply the meager amount of knowledge I have about music to my writing. I hope you’ve all enjoyed it as well.

So, for the final installment of my rhythm and time series, I want to talk about repeats and choruses. I’m sure you all know what a chorus is—the part of the song that gets repeated several times in between the verses. But there are other types of repeats in music, too. The verses of a song have different words, but usually, the music is exactly the same or very similar. Somewhere on the sheet music, the musician sees a little symbol called a coda that tells them to return to a place in the song where the verse (or whatever section applies) starts again. Then the musician plays through that section once or twice or five more times—whatever the music tells them to do.

The point here is that even though the music is the same (or very similar), the verse is different. And even though the chorus might repeat, often there is some new direction on the second, third, or fourth repeat of it—a change in key, for instance, or a slightly new ending or a few different words.

You can do this in your writing, too. Remember when I talked about intervals? Those intervals are periods of rising and falling tension, repeated as often as necessary to drive the plot to the end of the book. Obviously, you don’t want to repeat the exact same events or dialogue, but here is an opportunity to repeat some of those subtle themes, foils, and devices you’ve already set up.

Themes

Say you have a theme of parental desertion or unrequited love or betrayal by a friend. As you move your main characters through the intervals that drive the main plot forward, use your subplots to subtly repeat your themes—perhaps with different outcomes, or perhaps with outcomes that foreshadow what your main character will experience. This is also where pacing comes in—you can use a lull in the action of your main plot to do a comedic repetition of your theme, perhaps.

Think of Shakespeare: In many plays, after a moment of intense drama in the main plot, he introduced the rude mechanicals to give the audience a breather. But often, those rude mechanicals echoed a theme playing throughout the main plot of the play.

Foils

Foils are a great way to build characters. The literary term comes from the practice of placing a thin, shiny piece of metal behind a gemstone to make the stone appear brighter. You can do the same with characters—use a minor character to make your main characters appear more vivid.

If you’ve read A Song of Ice and Fire, think about some of the foils in that series. Look at Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, for instance—both queens, both strong women, but they respond very differently to similar circumstances. They’re foils for each other. Use some of the opportunity offered by the intervals to develop minor characters who can make your main characters shine more brightly.

Devices

There’s nothing wrong with repeating a plot device in different intervals. Think of how often Tolkien gave his Hobbits a rest with various mysterious hosts along their journey, or how many times C. S. Lewis tempted the Pevensie children with their hearts’ desires, or the multitude of opportunities Martin gave Ned Stark to figure out that the world wasn’t as trustworthy as he believed it was. A gentle repeat of a plot device or a rising tension as your hero pursues his Magical Object or Quest isn’t necessarily lazy storytelling. It can be a reminder to the reader that you know what you’re doing, or a way of letting your characters grow and respond differently in similar situations. You can even combine devices and foils. Look at Ned Stark and Jon Snow: Whereas Ned never really grew as a character and always believed, up to the bitter end, that the world was a noble place, Jon managed to understand fairly early on the Wall that he would have to be wily to survive. In situations where Ned might have died—with Qhorin Halfhand, for instance—Jon did what had to be done to survive and pursue the greater good.

Themes, foils, and devices are time-honored storytelling tools. As you look for ways to add depth to your stories, don’t forget about gentle repetition of those tools. As long as you aren’t heavy-handed or obvious, repeats and choruses will give your storytelling layers that your reader will appreciate.

One Final Note On This Series

If something helped you out, let me know what it is. I’m curious to hear what part of this analogy between music and writing helped you the most. I’ll go first: Going through this analogy reminded me how important structure is in music and in writing, but how many creative variations there are on that structure.

And speaking of structure, next week we’ll be continuing our look at Mushy Middles in our Story Structure series. Or read the Story Structure series from the beginning, starting with Beginnings.

Share

6 Comments

  1. Avatar Rachel says:

    Before I got carpeltunnel, i played the piano. My teacher once commented that the most beautiful pieces of music, ended on the same note that they started with. to give it a sense of conclusion, of completion. She said it was like a question, in need of an answer. Writing is the same way. (although there are exceptions) The best writing ends on the same note it begins. It ends with sometime the dynamic of saying the same statement it did at the begining. Only now the reader knows an entire adventure, and sees the phrase with a whole new light. Or a little more vague, a story ends with the same concept it started. Like my teacher said – an answer to the question.

    • Rachel, yes, I so totally agree. And I think, as a reader, there’s something that makes you feel kind of in on the joke when you recognize that stuff–like you “get it,” you know? Thanks for the great insight!

  2. I do agree with so much of your blog. My books weave music ( and music based jokes) throughout the text, and it makes it fun for me as a writer!

  3. […] two weeks, I’ll wrap up this series with some final thoughts about repeats and choruses in your work. VN:F [1.9.20_1166]please wait…Rating: 10.0/10 (5 votes cast)Rhythm and Time – Part […]

  4. Avatar Kevin Williams says:

    What about repeating a single line. Every time she sees her bag it is described as “her lovely new leather carrier bag”.
    I cant help writing it, it endears me to the character by showing a girlish obsession with new things. But It has spurred me to repeat a couple of other phrases. To me they seem to work like a mantra for the character? Maybe I’ve brainwashed myself.

Leave a Comment