5 Tips About Music In Your Writing

Music’s important to a lot of people. I know I have excellent taste in music:

Because music is so important to people, I’ve seen it discussed in literature quite a bit. Sometimes, it’s done well – and other times, it’s not.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned over my brief years in life.

5. Keep Poetry in Prose Short

Songs written out in a book appear as poetry, unless you’ve figured out a way to use magic and include actual noise in your pages. Though songs are usually longer than a few lines, you probably don’t want to include the whole thing in your book.

I would say that about 95% of the time, I skip poetry of any sort – including songs – when I’m reading a prose novel. The last 5% is either the REALLY impressive stuff (like the songs in The Lord of the Rings) or something on the order of 3-10 lines long. And I’m someone who reads poetry on my own!

People who don’t study poetry often don’t even like poetry. Poetry in English is strange because the forms are all sorts of weird. In East Asian poetry, the number of syllables and shape of the poem is important and gives it life. In the Romance languages, the words flow and rhyme easily. In English? Our bastard tongue makes either of those types of poetry difficult difficult lemon difficult.*

That means the quicker you get your poem out, the less likely you are to throw off a prose-liking audience. If you want my suggestion for how to include poetry (and thus song fragments) in a book, I would suggest reading Where the Crawdads Sing.

4. Keep the Lyrics Relevant

Poems and songs carry a lot of weight in real life, and it should be even moreso in a novel. When you take the time to include a piece of a song in your mostly prose story, that break in the narrative needs to pack as much punch as possible.

Luckily, poetry can shove a lot into a small space (which I still don’t understand how). While poetry rarely forwards the plot, you have an array of important things you can include to enmesh it more fully with your story. Here’s a brief, brief list of things you can include in your poetry to help glue it into your story more fully.

  • Characterization
  • Symbolism
  • Foreshadowing (SO common with poetry and songs in books – just read the Tolkien songs in LotR)
  • Background information (but be careful! it can bog down easily)

Once you get that done, it’s still important to carry through what you wrote. Make the foreshadowing come true, perhaps call back to the song without being explicit. People will carry the words of a poem on their hearts – let the words fall in when you crack their shells rather than shoving the poem in. Soft, yet forceful.

Like I’ve said before, do at least two things at once when you write. Don’t just put in a bit of poetry as a puzzle and expect it to be important. Make it be a part of your story and carry it.

3. Music Doesn’t Define a Character (and yet it does)

Does your character only listen to the darkest things like “Homicidal Retribution” by Dying Fetus**?

Sure, that defines the character… but it could easily define them in the wrong way. Hear me out.

When a character is very into a certain type of music, it doesn’t just define them: it puts them in part of a group. Music is rarely enjoyed by a single person, and the group of people then becomes important. Characters who are loners? Music still puts them in a group. It’ll give them a label.

For good or ill, yes, music and the groups that listen to them are usually defined in middle and high school (or whatever you foreigners call school for people between 12 and 18). The group you associated with in high school will forever have a certain place in your heart, and you’ll see the music you listened to differently from someone who hung out with a different group. Same thing for age – you’ll have different feelings about music from your time period in high school than other people will.

So when your character listens to “Second Death” by Abysmal Torment**, you may see them as a hero of edge, sass, and darkness. Other people will see them as losers. Other people will see them as scary. Clowns like me will be like “lol”.

Your character’s music may define them, but it doesn’t define them in the same way for every reader. It’s such a double edge sword that it must be considered very, very carefully.

2. Music Doesn’t Define Your Setting (and yet it does)

This is going to have a lot of similarities to the above, but it really has more to do with talk about technical things.

A relatively common trope I’ve seen is the use of songs to give a sense of place and, more importantly, time. Just name-drop the Beatles and put in a “Yellow Submarine,” and you’ve set your book in the 1960’s (or you’re trying to say your character listens to old music, but you can see #3 for that). The time period in which certain musical styles, songs, and artists were popular can easily be defined.

At the same time, it’s all just references. References are good for people who get them, but no one else.

Ready Player One is the grand poo-bah of all reference books. Including elements of music as well as everything else, the book makes extensive use of anything 80’s pop culture in attempt to build its world. From what I can gather, it works.

But only for people who already knew the information.

People who weren’t around during the 80’s (such as yours truly) and who haven’t studied up on it will get only a smattering of references. While dropping names of people and songs can help your intended audience feel in the moment, it can cause readers unfamiliar with it some stress. Any time something needs to be researched, it dampens the narrative.

My suggestion is to not reference music unless the information is almost universally known. The Beatles, for instance, are a household name and common knowledge. Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley also maintain a similarly important cultural niche (for now at least). Lyrics are almost impossible for people to catch, as well, so I wouldn’t rely on them as references at all.

In the end, know your audience and make your passage easy to read.

1. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T RELY ON A SONG’S WORDS

I said earlier to avoid lyrics for the purpose of setting. Now I’m going to tell you why you should just avoid putting in lyrics at all:

CHEESINESS.

Yes, that’s right. You can usually get away with referencing things or including small bits of a song, but here’s the thing: every time I’ve seen this done, whether in an indie book or a traditionally published book, it’s usually not… good.

Like with the danger for characters and for settings, music evokes different feelings for different people. Your feel-good music could scream “PSYCHO KILLER” to someone else. Trying to find depth in lyrics is hard (with the exception of American Pie, I guess).

Most people reach their peak “into music” phase as a teen. Many teens define themselves by what music they listen to, and defining a book by a song reminds me of that. It makes me, at least, feel like a book is a teenager. Regardless of the defining song, it seems…

angsty.

By a long shot, this article has been the one relying least on research and most on my opinion so far. Do you agree with what I’ve said? Have a bone with me to pick? Let me know in the comments!

*difficult difficult lemon difficult is supposed to be making fun of easy peasy lemon squeezy.

**I enjoy listening to the local college station at 5-7pm on Friday night. The DJ is this Aubrey Plaza sounding woman who explains why the maggots on such and such album cover thrills her, and it makes me laugh endlessly. I just have to put up with vomit sounds, oinking, and people singing about putting pig blood on their penises in order to listen to this fantastic, anonymous person.

5 Hints About Pacing

No, I’m not talking about how fast you write, walk, or work. Today we’re talking about narrative pacing, or how fast your story feels.

5. It’s About Them Feels

Unlike commas (which have rules often non-intuitive and aren’t well-predicted by feelings), pace is almost entirely subjective. It’s about how quickly a piece of prose seems to go by relative to the amount of time spent reading. It’s something vague, and it’s not something I’ve yet heard many editors focus on despite the importance it has on the book’s feeling and success.

What’s worse? You almost can’t determine pace of your own work. My pacing disaster is characterization-based. I’m a plot person, through and through, and it shows in most of what I write. American Chimera was written in part as a way to explore character and setting in a format that forced me to do it. Without that forcing myself, I often make characters that are mere plot vehicles. That means my pace errs on the side of too fast. It’s important I know this so I can improve in the future.

From beta reading, though, I think it’s equally likely for pacing to swing the other direction and be too slow. Here’s some signs to look for when determining if you could improve a scene’s pacing:

Signs of Good Pacing

  • You wonder where the time went – and why you read so long – but in a good way
  • You don’t have any confusion about what happened in a scene
  • You read every word
  • You were never bored

Signs of Slow Pacing

  • You feel tempted to skip a sentence/paragraph/page
  • You can skip a sentence/paragraph/page and not lose track of the story
  • A slight hint of boredom; even if you think it’s because you’re re-reading, there’s the possibility you could improve pacing
  • Though not a sure-fire tool, lengthy paragraphs can be a sign of slow pacing

Signs of Fast Pacing

  • Slight confusion (especially with beta readers)
  • A feeling something is missing
  • The events are hard to keep up with
  • No single event in a scene feels important because there are too many important events

4. Dialogue vs. Narrative vs. Philosophical Diatribe vs. Math

When working your pace, the length of paragraphs, sentences, scenes, and chapters all determine the speed at which the reader feels. The fastest flow is with dialogue. I found this example by Joanne the Geek of a story written entirely in dialogue. It’s very short, but it gets across a LOT of information and is understandable. Entirely dialogue flash fiction is a good tool to have in your pocket, especially if you can pull off giving the characters distinct tone (which is something Joanne did well).

Shorts, novellas, and novels all have different rules from flash. Dialogue can sometimes be fast enough that information is lost. It’s full of telling rather than showing, for obvious reasons, which can lead a reader away from immersion in the story.

This is where narrative comes in. Narrative is the bit where action happens, some introspection, and most descriptions of environment or characters. It’s the bit where the story’s mind tells what it sees. In our heads, we remember life events and scenes complete with feelings and analysis (was it fun? did it taste good? did I love that person?) even if we don’t realize it. That narrative voice helps give life to a scene.

The narrative voice can also go too far. Spend too long describing a small piece, and you’ll stagnate. Or, worse… wax political or philosophical.

Unless you’re writing Atlas Shrugged or some other political treatise, you’ll at best stroke the egos of readers that agree with you and piss off the readers that disagree. That’s at best. It’s also possible that the metaphysical arguments or blatant discourse about political or philosophical items will become boring. If someone’s looking for fiction and finds philosophy, there’s a good chance the passage will feel dense and slow to them. That was my experience with Atlas Shrugged.

There’s one item that is even slower than philosophical or political diatribes: math.

Don’t do it. Even in engineering school we’re taught to avoid putting equations in a presentation unless absolutely necessary, and that’s presenting to people who enjoy math. Don’t make bets that your audience will consist of people who love math enough to enjoy paragraphs about it.

3. One Scene, Two Purposes

One important method to make sure you don’t slow down too much is to make sure everything you write is important. In order to help ensure importance, give your scenes two purposes.

By two purposes, I mean use the scene to advance the plot and do one other thing. This “other thing” can be advancing a second plot, providing characterization, developing a worldbuilding element, or focusing on some literary device such as theme or symbol.

When you include two purposes side by side, the slower-paced items such as characterization or worldbuilding can be enhanced by inclusion with the faster-paced plot movement. You can balance things more readily. As well, having two goals in one scene makes it so that every piece has importance. If you divide the two goals into two different scenes, the scene exclusively dedicated to characterization is going to be slower. Sometimes a slower scene is good in order to de-escalate the tension after a mini-climax, but even in these slower scenes you want to accomplish enough goals and push in enough meat that a reader gets something from it.

Try it. Take a scene where you’ve done characterization exclusively, then try to jam it into a scene where you’re just doing plot. Once you start doing double duty, it gets much easier to do it again.

2. Don’t Hide Information

Subtlety is useful in cases where you’re building to a twist, but making small hints at information that are easily forgotten leads to exactly the problem you think it might have: it’s easily forgotten. If that forgotten hint comes up important later in the story, the reader could become either confused or disinterested. This moment of confusion can lead to a slow in the pace one takes in information, as a reader will have to start combing through earlier pages or they’ll be overly scrutinizing within the rest of the passage. Be less subtle with your hints, and the times of confusion will lessen.

At the same time, there’s the opposite problem: telling everything. If you throw too much information out there, what’s essential gets lost and nothing matters. To a lot of modern people, that’s the problem with books such as Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Christo, or other 19th century works in which the authors drag on and on about things that don’t matter. You can get away with giving too much information at times in modern works, but it needs to have a reason.

1. Simplify the Story

Multiple plotlines, complicated backstories, symbols and themes and – oh my! So much to fit in, so little space!

Congruent with much of what I’ve already said, one of the easiest ways to make a story have great pace is to KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Most people comfortably read at a level below 8th grade, and fiction is best when read comfortably. In addition to the need for understandable phrasing, words, and sentence structures, maintaining storylines and artistic moieties that are easy to understand (for your intended audience, I might add) is key.

Do you need multiple narrators to tell the story? What does this side-plot add? Does everything fold together, or do they remain as two separate tales throughout the book?

If a piece of information is not essential, consider cutting it. Kill your darlings, as it were.

You might also consider letting someone else read the book as a beta reader. This will help you know what parts they liked, if nothing else, and may help you determine if one storyline didn’t add to the overall quality of the book. Don’t be to attached to any scene being in the final version of the book before it’s time to ship out and sell.

How do you handle pacing in your stories? Any hints, especially for flash or blog-oriented things? Tell us what you’ve got in the comments!

5 Sneaky Tips for Using the Gutenberg Editor

Yes, WordPress users are all in the boat now: use the Gutenberg block editor, move to a different blog host, or leave the blogosphere forever. With those sorts of options, it makes sense to at least try the new system before gutting all your work.

I’ve seen tutorials around and about, but there’s some neat tricks and hints the Gutenberg process lets you do that you couldn’t on the old version. If you want a good, basic intro on using the Gutenberg Editor, visit Colleen Chesebro’s site.

5. Quick Way to Start a Block You Want

Something I didn’t like when initially starting the editor (and, if I’m being honest, still don’t like) is how pressing “enter” starts a new block. At least it assumes you’ll be using a text block!

But what if you don’t want to use the text block? You have to click the stupid plus, find what you want – aaagh!

– OR – you can use the handy dandy backslash button.

When you start a new paragraph/block, type a / as the first thing. A dropdown menu will appear as so:

You can then click the block you want, or you can finish typing. Typing /twitter, for instance, will let you embed a twitter post. You couldn’t do that shiz with the old editor very easily!

Also, follow me on Twitter. And Instagram, because apparently those are things I’m supposed to tell you to do.

4. Figure Out Which Shortcuts Work

I’m the kind of person who likes keyboard shortcuts. The Gutenberg editor has a lot of shortcuts, but they’re not the same as the old editor. Depending on your OS and your browser, you may find difficulties in using CTRL+U (underline). Underline, for example, often doesn’t work on Chrome and opens the source code page on Firefox. Because of this, I’d suggest trying your usual shortcuts almost immediately when you start using Gutenberg.

If (or when) a shortcut doesn’t work, you may also need to look for the button. On the classic editor, most things a typical blogger would need were available in the toolbar. With the text toolbar much abbreviated in the new editor, you may need to expand the menu more often than you used to.

To get to the underline function (which I use because my theme doesn’t easily show the difference between link text and normal text), I do:

This is also where you’ll find justify (because apparently that doesn’t count as an alignment under the alignments part of the toolbar).

Issues with shortcuts or some functionalities may be caused by one of a host of issues, including OS incompatibility, browser incompatibility, browser plugin inability, or WordPress plugin incompatibility (I’ve seen on the forums that a plugin called TinyMCE causes issues). My assumption is the WordPress team will eventually fix a lot of these issues, but as of this posting, just be aware and figure out what you need to do.

3. FINALLY COPY PASTE IMAGES WITHOUT SUCKAGE

For the love of all that is holy and just, you can now copy an image and paste it directly into your post without having to insert it into your media library first. Sure, you can still do that, and it’s a good idea to curate your images in such a way that you can re-use them (remember, your storage space hasn’t changed).

Those images I added above? I took snips of my work, then copied it and pasted them directly to the document. Without any extra effort, they’re ready and available for me. This year, when I do a book review, I’m not going to have to do the process of adding the covers with care and pain. All I’ll do is paste the image, and its ready for me to edit and change the name.

2. Add .gifs Without Destroying Your Storage Space

That’s right – animated gifs. When you used the old editor, you’d have to download them from Giphy or Tenor or something of the sort. Then you’d have to upload them from your computer into your gallery. Out of my 7.7% of memory space taken by images on my blog, I’d have to say most of that space is probably taken by .gifs – despite them being a tiny fraction of the number of images I’ve uploaded. They’re just enormous files.

Now, you can use the /gif block, search for your animated trash, and plug n’ chug.

Problems with that:

  • No size control. Your theme determines the size.
  • If you try to delete the block with backspace, weird crap happens.
  • CTRL-Z or Undo won’t work right on it.
  • It’s huge in the editor, so you may have to move it before you can see the “remove block” clicky bit (because, like I said, the backspace thing can be screwy).

1. Just Wait and Let It Improve

Honestly, the biggest problem with the editor is that it’s now less similar to MS Word, which is still the absolute gold-standard for what people learn to use as a word processor. Even if Gutenberg will be better (which I am not holding my breath for), it’s not part of our typical mindsets yet. That makes it hard to wrap around. That being said, I think it’s not just in our heads and genuinely needs improvement.

People are out there lobbying on forums to get the Gutenberg team to change things to a more understandable and useful format. The easily broken shortcuts, shortened text editing bar, changes to the coding method, and compression of Classic posts in the mobile app are real issues among a thousand real issues. As of this post, the Gutenberg editor has over 2,000 1-star reviews, an overall rating of 2 stars, and a slew of vitriol in the written comments. Things will probably change because WordPress is, ultimately, a product. You have to keep your product competitive, and time will tell if these new changes actually help or hurt the site.

Personally, I find the new editor just enough of a pain that I don’t spend nearly as much time on the blogosphere as I used to. I can feel myself drifting off because making a post is just no longer fun. User engagement is one of those statistics WordPress will be measuring – so don’t feel bad if you’re slower now, either.

Only time will tell what happens next.

Do you have any quick tips? Any complaints about the new editor? We can have a secret pow-wow in the comments where we spew all sorts of polluted words concerning this monster! Bring it!

The Big Blog Question: Quantity vs. Quality

Choose Two: Quantity of posts, Quality of posts, or Your Non-Blogging Life.

Well, one of those is probably going to take priority (unless you’ve gotten past that ‘needing food’ conundrum), so the rest of blogging is just figuring out how to deal with balancing the other two.  Here’s some hints and tips I’ve learned to help with that balance.

Schedule Posts Ahead of Time

By scheduling your posts ahead of time, you can bank up time for when you need to be busy.  If Saturdays are your blog days, you can make all your blog posts then and not worry throughout the week.

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As well, many people can work faster when they’re on a roll.  If you write all your blog posts at once, you won’t have to get into or out of the mood as much.

Keep Most Posts Below 1,000 Words

The longer your post, the more likely people will get bored somewhere in the middle.

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By limiting the size of your posts, you reduce the chances for boredom and, thus, reduce the chances that your reader will leave before finishing.

As well, limiting the size of your post will help you decide the scope.  If you don’t have a scope, you might end up with enormous articles that take too much of your valuable time.  Remember – you can do a lot of work, but that will eat away at the time you could be writing your books or other publishable goods.  Keep scope creep down and cut your posts off when they need to be.

Decide On A Pattern

Do you post weekly?  Daily?  Something else?  Once you’ve figured out your routine, decide on what kind of posts you’ll make.

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I post daily, and right now I follow a week-by-week schedule as follows:

Monday – Book Review
Tuesday – Tanka Tuesday (Poetry practice!)
Wednesday – Prompt Showcase
Thursday – Blogging/Writing tips or Longer Stories
Friday – Carrot Ranch Prompt (Flash fiction!)
Saturday – Sammi Scribbles Prompt
Sunday – #CountVlad Guest Posts from Dracula

Because I follow this schedule, I know which posts I can write ahead of time.  I know what formats and types of information needs to be written.  This can almost act as a prompt, helping to give me a start on each of the posts.  That takes care of the hardest part – just starting.

Don’t Waste Your Readers’ Time

If you wouldn’t want to read the article, you can bet your bottom dollar that other people wouldn’t want to.  If you start an article or story and can’t stand it, think about if it’s worth your time to finish it.

If it’s a very short article, like a prompted flash fiction, you might as well finish it.  But if you’re prepping your major articles, stop before you think it’s going to fall apart.  Save what you’ve written and try to repurpose it – WordPress let’s you have plenty of drafts, so make use of them!

***

How do you save time?  Are there methods you use to ensure quality?  I’d love to hear about some of your tips in the comments!

Don’t Quit – You Didn’t Mess Up Your Blog!

I’ve blogged seriously for long enough to have done several dirty deeds, yet somehow I’m at what I find to be a satisfying position regarding growth and participation.  So how did I come back from blog-killing mistakes?  There’s a key lie in that question:

There are almost no blog-killing mistakes.*

you right about that sugar

Here’s some hints to handle some of the boo-boo’s and uh-oh’s that come around.

I Accidentally Turned My Comments Off for Like A Week!  How Do I Survive?

I just got through this mess – and Lord knows it ain’t fun.

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If you’re lucky, you’ll have friends who’ll take the time to make the way over to your contact page (MAKE ONE IF YOU HAVEN’T) and submit something on that little form.

If you’re just starting out or your readers are on the new/untested side, you might want to schedule a check to make sure your comments are on your new posts.

Right now, you can check each article by clicking on ‘more options’ on the post maker and finding the “Allow Comments” checkbox.

WP Comments

Unless you’re really neck deep in trolls and hackers, do a double check before you post.  It’s way easier to comment if the comments are on!

Oh Snap – My Post Didn’t Make the Reader!

Sometimes this happens, and I’m not even sure why.  Most of the time it’s because you accidentally backdated your post so that it appears on the reader last year or something silly.  Sometimes blogging software is like, “Screw it, just not going to work.”

But that SUCKS.  Having your post not make the reader is about the same as missing a post entirely – and if you’ve been looking at any how to blog help articles, you know that consistency is important.

But don’t panic.

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There are some silver linings to this. First, a post not making the reader doesn’t mean your post was bad.  You can try to rescue it.

If you want to rescue it now, make a copy of the post, check all the settings, and publish it.  Take down the old post so people don’t think you’re spamming (and so comments don’t get strewn around), then leave a note explaining potential email shenanigans to your readers.  You should still get most of the benefits of the original post with only a trifle more effort.

Something else you can do?  You can easily mark that post to reblog again on a later date.  With so few people seeing the post, you should be able to publicize it again without seeming lazy.

And those people who still read your blog post anyway?  Well, it means someone loves you.

Why Are Other People Politically Idiots!?

Tip one: stay out of politics if it’s not your professed thing (oops, I suck at that).  But, you know, sometimes you just gotta get some dip and speak the truth:

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And those fools out there just don’t understand!  Still, the best thing to do is to ignore it or block them.  Here’s how you can do that: Go to Settings, then click the Discussion tab.  Scroll down to Comment Moderation.

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You can also block annoying people without political aspirations like I have (I reserve the rights to moderate anyone with the words ‘sexy,’ ‘id,’ ‘.website,’ and ‘.ru’ in their names, comments, or URLs – this has blocked quite a few annoying spammers, actually).

The bigger problem is if someone is being real mean to you.  Do you ban them?  Try to ignore it?  Or do you spread dirt around about them?

Just ban them like an ordinary spammer.  There’s nothing you can do to make yourself look like the winner of an argument like that.  Who knows – that person may even be popular or influential, and you don’t want to tick off your mutual friends.

But, you know, what if you’re the person spouting stuff and getting banned?

Well… you’re gonna have to get off that high horse.

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There are a couple things you can do to save yourself if you say something obtuse:

  1. Ignore it and DON’T KEEP STOKING THE FIRE.  Wait and see if the blog author thought it was funny too, or if it’ll slide away unnoticed…
  2. Apologize privately if you can, publicly if you can’t.  This will let the person know you recognize the mistake.  As long as you’ve not been mean in the past, they’ll probably understand the limitations of written word and forgive you.
  3. If you can’t stand letting them win, write up the argument in a document you’ll save on your computer and NEVER POST.  Once you take the bait, you run the risk of becoming a target.

As far as I’m aware, the goal of most writing bloggers isn’t to win arguments – it’s to meet people, improve our craft, and create a community.

But I guess if your goal is to put the smackdown on as many people as possible, go for it?

Have You Nearly Killed Your Blog?

What’s happened on your blog that made you want to quit?  Is there anything frustrating that you wish could be done better?  Let me know in the comments – maybe I or someone will know some work arounds!

*You may be able to kill your blog if you do something illegal or so distasteful that you get permabanned.  Be reasonable, folks.