Finding the Rhythm of a Story

Typewriter at Table with Lamp and PhoneI received a question from Reader this weekend and, in trying to think of an answer to their question, I’ve decided the best way to respond is to write a couple blog posts. I hope they don’t mind.

Reader asked, basically, how to take an idea that was inspired by some music they listen to and get that idea onto the page. How to take those deeply felt emotions and story concepts and make them flow as a story.

That’s a tough one. I listen to music a lot when I am writing (I’ll do a longer post about that soon) and I am rarely able to convey the exact rhythm. If I was better at that, I would be a better poet.

When I’m setting out to write a new story, I always have a tone that I’m aiming for in mind. I use other novels, television shows, and movies as a point of reference. The Oliver Lucas novels, for example, are supposed to feel like an Indiana Jones movie, or perhaps a particularly well scripted episode of Doctor Who. I want them to be filled with moments of dramatic tension, exciting set pieces, and (importantly) a mildly cynical sense of world-weary humor.

But how to get to that tone, that particular rhythm of language that exists in your mind?

Well, the simple truth is that it takes a lot of work and patience. You’ve got to sit down and, one word at a time, peck out that story that you have in mind. Sometimes the words will flow from your fingertips as if a Grecian muse is sitting on your lap, whispering sweet suggestions into your ear, guiding your every word to brilliance. Other times you’ll spend two hours writing pecking away at the keyboard desperately carefully thoughtfully struggling to write and rewrite a scene, and all you’ll come away with is a single page of text, a headache, and jitters from all the tea or coke that you’ve been drinking.

I’m not being very encouraging, am I? Sorry about that.

Listen, writing isn’t easy. I’ve been at this for more than five years, published as many novels, written two more along with a bunch of short stories, and I still struggle every day to try and write the best stories I can. I’ve still got a music related plot churning away at the back of my mind, which I’ve been playing with since I was 16 or 17. I’ve got a couple stories that I really want to tell, but I don’t trust myself to do them justice… yet. There’s the heist novel. The story about how relationships work. The thinly conceited memoir of Scouting. That fantasy epic that I’m trying to write in bits and pieces.

And I’m not even successful at this yet, if we judge “successful” as making a living from a job.

So the first step is getting your idea for a music-inspired tale out of your mind and onto paper, or into a computer, or scribed in blood onto the tanned skin of your enemies, or… whatever. Don’t worry too much about whether the story is good. Trust me, it will not look like you imagined. But get the whole story out, or at least the whole of what you know of it.