Melodies and Harmonies in Writing

I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written a music-related post, so I decided to write one, about melodies and harmonies–or rather, plots and subplots.

For example, take this song, All the Pretty Little Horses. It’s a slightly creepy lullaby that I love because my mom used to sing it to me when I was little. I love the melody and the minor tune that makes it interesting.

Or on the other hand, there’s songs like Entreat Me Not to Leave You composed by Dan Forrest. (I shared a song by him in this post.) Based on the story of Ruth and Naomi from the Bible, it’s absolutely beautiful, a cappella, and goes to 8-part harmony at times.

The first song only has one melody, while the second has a melody plus a whole bunch of harmonies. But just because All the Pretty Little Horses doesn’t have the harmonies that Entreat Me Not to Leave You has doesn’t mean it’s bad. They’re both beautiful pieces of music.

But what would be bad is if you had a choir full of beautiful singers who had the capability to sing 8-part a cappella harmonies, and you had them all singing unison throughout the whole song.

If we compare All the Pretty Little Horses to a short story, then having just the melody–the main plot–is just fine. The story is short enough that it would be hard to incorporate more than one plot, just as it’s impossible for one voice to split into multiple parts. (Although, that would be awesome. I wish I could do that.)

And thus, Entreat Me Not to Leave You would be comparative to a novel, with a main plot, as well as a whole bunch of subplots and characters and worldbuilding and all sorts of awesome stuff like that.

But despite that each harmony is different from all the others, they also fit with one another. I could put eight random notes together, but it’s likely that putting those eight together at once would sound…eghhgh.

Yet in Entreat Me Not to Leave You, even though it does often split into eight notes, they go together. They harmonize with each other.

So, how does harmonization of melodies and harmonies go along with writing novels? When writing plots and subplots, they have to, well, fit together somehow. Usually they don’t weave together until the end, but then, suddenly, you realize how everything fits together.

Finding out how everything fits is one of my very, very favorite things about writing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you write a novel, you want all the pieces to sort of fit into the main plot. Not only just the subplots, but also even down to the scenes. Every scene should contribute something to the plot, right? So writing something random about gemstones turning all the characters insane is probably not a good idea. (Yes, I did do that in my first novel.)

Similarly, characters that last for more than one scene/affect the characters/are not “extras” should also play roles in the plot, and at least affect it a little bit. Everything, or nearly everything, that goes into the plot should come out of it at sometime in another place, at a way that can either help or hinder your characters.

Like every scene should contribute to the story, so should each character, each setting, each piece of the plot. If they don’t come together like that, the tune will become discordant and confusing.

But when they do flow together and change the story, each piece pushing the main plot along, all the notes will harmonize, and you will get a beautiful song.


(My apologies if this post is really disjointed or confusing. I was not only distracted while writing it, but also wasn’t sure how to write out my thoughts very well.)

Song Lyrics: Carol of Joy

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. The snow making the ground glitter, lights strung on trees and houses, the feeling of magic and companionship in the air, and the music. I love Christmas music. I love that you can turn on the radio and hear songs about Christ, I love Christmas caroling, and I love that I actually know the words to all of the songs, hehe. And I love beautiful choral music, like “Carol of Joy”.

I absolutely love this song. (I know I’ve used the word “love” way too much in this post already, but I do love it.) I heard it first two years ago, when we sang it in our church choir for our Christmas program. I fell in love with the piece then, and since that time, it’s grown to become one of my very favorite Christmas songs.

The words are written by Eileen Berry, and put to music by Dan Forrest. (Dan Forrest is exceptional at arranging gorgeous choral music, by the way.) You can listen to it here.

So the lyrics. These really are like poetry. Imagery, repetition, etc., and when it’s combined with music…it’s so powerful. Anyway, let me put them here:

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Lengthening shadows, Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!

Oh fallen world, to you is the song—
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!

Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music—hopeful and bright!

Oh fearful world, to you is the song—
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound—
A carol of joy! A Saviour is found!

Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted—witness God’s love!
Join in the carol swelling above!

Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonely, laden, forlorn—
Now unto you, A Saviour is born!

I love those lyrics. There’s that word “love” again… I think part of what makes them so powerful is that they use description and imagery. They paint a picture of this sad, fallen, lonely world, with the sun going down, covered in snow…and then it’s contrasted with these words about joy, and hope, and really, the message of Christmas.

And it applies to everyone. It may be a Christmas song, but it’s not talking about long ago when Christ was born. It’s talking about now. It’s talking about this earth, covered in pain, death, and loneliness. This earth, filled with evil and sorrow — but it tells us that, yes, there is hope! There is hope for every single one of us, no matter how dark it is, no matter how sad we feel.

That’s what makes these words so beautiful. What use to this world is a poem that doesn’t apply to us? What use is it if we hear the words but don’t understand how they can change us? There’s no point in poetry, in songs, in any sort of writing if it doesn’t affect people. It’s meant to be shared, and it’s meant to make people feel something.

This song makes me feel, and to me, that’s the beauty of it.