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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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So, sometimes when I write……

……I get songs stuck in my head. I’m not kidding – I have created soundtracks to several screenplays, mostly for my own amusement. There has been at least one occasion where the song inspired the story and I wrote the bulk of it in one sitting.

I love crooners, like Tony Bennett, and groups like the Temptations or the Flamingos. I love singers like Natalie Cole and Cyndi Lauper. Their energy, their voices, their artistry, often connect with my imagination in such a way that scenes will write themselves. Sometimes the style of music will surprise me, but the mood it conveys will always suit the scene I’m in the middle of.

Right now, I’m revising my two-act comedy, cutting out unnecessary words (boy, I can tell I’m a novelist – I’m wordy!). Lines still make sense, even when cut in half, which is good. Since I’ve not written a stage play before, this is a good exercise for me.

I haven’t been listened to music for a long time, outside of my car. I’m discovering that I need to start listening again. Especially when you’re writing a play about the ancient gods and goddesses of mythology. There is a Chorus, after all, who sing about what they witness or summarize what came before. And music is the voice of civilization – just as the written word allows us to connect with the minds of Herodotus or Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Mary Shelley, so does music give voice to that past.

When a particular style or genre of music starts nudging at you, trying to get your attention, or you have a song stuck in your head, listen to that. That’s your creative instinct telling you to pay attention, that there’s something there for you to hear, that it may add more color into your work, whether it’s writing a play or painting a portrait.

So, on that note, I need to go listen to variations of Your Cheatin’ Heart. Apparently, country music has become part of my Ancient Greek Comedy’s soundtrack.

I did not see that one coming.

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So, there’s this thing called language……

………and it has far more to do with story than how any one particular character speaks. Language, more than anything else in the written form, sets the tone and brings to life the world within each book.

I found myself pondering language and its importance while reading a book that, with the exception of a handful of words describing articles of clothing, could have been set in the 21st century. The time period is in the Regency era. I had no clue about the When of this story and it took an entire chapter to figure it out.

And there’s the point. I shouldn’t have had spend any time trying to figure it out. I should have known from the first page that what I was reading was set in a time far removed from my own, where modern conveniences hadn’t been thought of, let alone invented. Given that the role of women was severely limited up until the last century (though in some parts of the world, that is still the case) and, therefore, her value equated solely with her virginity, the emotional stakes should have been higher.

Did it matter that the novel in question was erotica? Nope. I’ve read historical romances with equally (and also better written) steamy scenes. I’ve encountered similar problems in other genres, though not as severe. What separates good from excellent is how one handles the language, particularly if writing a period piece.

From the very first word, language should inform the reader about the world they are about to enter, whether it’s Regency England, Ancient Greece or Egypt, or featuring scientists in another part of the galaxy.  Language is that important in determining time and place.  It can make the difference between a successful story and an unsuccessful one – either drawing you in to know more or throwing you out entirely.

Which experience would you prefer while reading?

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