Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Music of Novels

Novels are like a piece of music. I’ve noticed that when I think about a novel and when I think about a piece of music I think about them the same way. A few days ago, I wrote about the Moment of Hope. I’ve noticed that when a soloist sings an arrangement that builds and builds and builds, followed by a resolution, the audience always claps, right there in the middle of the song. It’s just like the Moment of Hope, but the similarities don’t end there.

Music builds to a crescendo like a novel builds to a climax. Music speeds up and slows down, as does the pace of a novel. Music may have many instruments or only a few, just as a novel may have a lot going on or very little. Music may be calm and peaceful or loud and violent. A novel may be like relaxing in a hammock on a summer day or like battling a stormy sea in the middle of winter. And as with music, we may move from one to the other and back again.

Some novels are serene from start to finish. They’ll fluctuate some, but like similar music, they provide the reader with a relaxing setting throughout. Some novels are fast and furious throughout. The action begins on page one and it never slows down. Some music is that way, but most of the time we like variation. Music uses contrast to bring out certain parts and the same is true of novels. We want to feel our pulse quicken as the story builds to a feverish pace. In our mind, we hear the thunderous roar of the timpani, the sweet strings of the violins, the deep base of the tubas, the shrill pitch of the flutes, playing faster and louder until they reach a new height, like a hang glider leaping off the side of a mountain and souring like a bird.