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.)

Romance as a Crutch

Okay, I’m definitely guilty of this one in my writing, but I’m trying to improve and make it better, so I’m going to talk about it anyway.

A lot of the time when I read new books, I find them really boring. Maybe I think everything should be at a higher level now that I’ve read Brandon Sanderson’s books, but I really feel like there’s something missing in all of those books.

Like…a plot.

You see, sometimes I find myself reading a book, just wishing I could be at the end so that I could make sure these two characters would fall in love and have their happily ever after and then I could stop reading. Sometimes that need to make sure they end up together really is the only thing keeping me finishing certain books. And even if they do end up together, I end up feeling kind of disappointed and meh.

I think it’s because they throw it in randomly, like subplots are toppings you can put on top of a hot dog to try to make it edible, when really, they should be a part of the meat that’s ground up into the…actually, let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s talk Kung Fu Panda.

I love this movie. It was well-done, really funny, and I really did love it. But then they decided to make a second one. It seems, as a rule, that the first movies are always the best, unless you decide to plan for them.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t plan for Kung Fu Panda 2. I mean, obviously they gave themselves an opening for it with Po’s dad being a duck. (“Honestly, Dad, sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m actually your son.”) But it just felt like they said, “Hmm, let’s make more money by making a second movie, and since Po feels acceptance now, we’ve got to give him another internal conflict. Oh, right, the tragic backstory! That’ll work.” And…I didn’t really end up liking it.

And now they have Kung Fu Panda 3. I haven’t seen it yet, but just from the cover it looks like I know what subplot they decided to throw on there–romance. I have to say, I’m amazed they made it to the third movie without it. *clap clap*

Why am I amazed? Because romance is one of the easiest ways to trick readers into keeping reading/watching even when there isn’t any other interesting plot. We’re human, and romance draws us. Why did I finish all those books that I didn’t really like? Because I wanted to make sure it ended right, because we almost all like happy endings and people finding love and happiness.

While some romance is done really well, and while I love romance and ships and all that stuff, I’ve found that I have a real big appreciation for books I finish and enjoy that don’t have romance in them at all, because it shows me that their plot is actually good.

Take for example, the book I just finished today, Forest Born by Shannon Hale. The MC didn’t have any love interest throughout the whole book, and yet I still kept reading, because the story is what interested me. The three books before that in the series all had romance, but the main plot was way more important, and kept me thoroughly interested.

Or, let’s take The Lord of the Rings. There wasn’t much romance in that, especially in the books. In the movies there was a little bit more, but still the main plot was much more important, and as far as relationships went, it was obvious that Sam and Frodo’s friendship was the most important one. And I really, really loved that. I cried at the end of the third movie when SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER Frodo left, and I don’t cry very often in movies or books at all. There was something about that friendship that was so much more touching than any romance.

So what’s my point of this post? I’m not saying that romance is bad to have in books; in fact, I love it. But what I’m trying to say is that romance and shippiness shouldn’t be the only thing driving your readers through to the end of the book. Ask yourself if your novel could still survive if there wasn’t romance in it.

As far as my humble opinion goes, I really believe that romance is used as a crutch far too often in modern literature. Sometimes it makes sense, in romance novels and some realistic fic stuff, but in most books, I want a plot that makes me excited and characters that make me want to follow them. I want so much more than just romance, and maybe that’s greedy, but it’s true.

So I’m asking myself now: Could my Zel novel survive without romance? (I’m ignoring the fact that it’s a fairy tale retelling at the moment.) And thinking about that question, I think there might be a few things I need to change. Like maybe actually adding some side characters in. But I think I’m not depending on romance for everything, and that makes me really happy.