Theory and Technique in the Arts and the Crossover to Writing

Degrees of Freedom book reading

Degrees of Freedom book reading

Last night I held a book reading of Degrees of Freedom at Visible Voice books in Tremont, Ohio. It was lots of fun, conversation ran the gamut (what’s the difference between creativity and craft? does one trump the other in terms of importance? how does applying  musical techniques to your writing improve it? can skills or techniques learned in different arts — music, performance art, architecture — transfer?)

Recently, on literary agent Rachel Gardner’s blog, Heather Goodman wrote an excellent post “Finding Your Voice” on how to utilize musical techniques to improve writing.

As a musician, understanding the idea of voice in writing came to me via music. Just as composers and performers have unique sounds, so do writers. Faulkner favored wordy sentences, intricate descriptions, and heady emotions while Hemingway preferred a stark style. You have a favorite author for a reason. The way she unfolds a story and character resonates with you. This goes beyond conquering the rules of the craft–using active verbs, avoiding words like just and immediately, and showing instead of telling. Voice is one of the hardest things to develop as a writer, but it’s also the most important aspect. It makes the story uniquely yours.

She also provides several techniques to strengthen her musical composition that she transferred to her writing.

1. Mimic other authors. In composition classes, we wrote Baroque counterpoint and fugue, Classical sonata forms, and Debussy-like floating chords. The intention wasn’t to be Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms but to play with different forms and styles in order to understand them. Then we gave them our own twist.

2. Write stream of consciousness. In one of my composition classes, I wrote what seemed to me too sentimental. But the instructor recognized something with its lyrical, idyllic, and playful qualities that reflected my style.

These techniques can, of course, be applied to performance art, visual arts, etc. AND they are fun!


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