Friday, May 6, 2011

Lyric Lesson Learned

Okay, while I furiously work with my readers and editors to polish Strong Enough, I will post more about the journey of writing my novel.

I've mentioned that I'm stubborn. Here's a great example.

I remember vividly one instructor from my masters work out east. I was fortunate to take two classes with an excellent writer. He was well educated in southern literary style and a bit of an ass. However, I found his courses useful, his comments insightful, and his balance of honesty and consideration admirable. I even forgave his strutting because one of his novels had just been produced into a successful movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

Pardon me while I blanch, but I am about to name drop. [BLANCH] I sat within spitting distance of Dennis Lehane every week for two semesters. I'm not sure any of us knew who he was at first, but word spread quickly that he wrote, Mystic River. Before our first class, the campus screened the movie and held a Q and A. As his students, a little stardust fall in our eyes, but it also made us fiercely demanding. He had a great burden to prove himself worthy of his success. I think it even made some of us reluctant to willingly take advice lest we do so because of a movie. With fanged teeth, we shredded his every move, his every glance, or any perceived narcissistic comments.

And yet, despite our best efforts, we learned something from him. Well, I did. Eventually. Despite his name, I was reluctant to accept some of his advice. I don't think it was because of his success that I dug in my heels, insistent that what I was doing was different. I just didn't like his advice. Alas, he was right. I was wrong.

For my workshop piece, I submitted a chapter from the end of my novel--a moment in the denouement critical to tempo as the story slides down the slope into the conclusion. The crisis was revealed and I had to keep tension while applying the breaks ever so gently to avoid careening head over heals into a broken heap. It was also the first time I revealed my rule breaking choice....

I included lyrics in my prose.

First let me say, that prior to reaching this point in my submitted piece, Dennis congratulated me on writing a dream sequence. He said it was normally a 'no, no' but defended it from some of my peers who unsheathed their claws. He complimented it, telling me that it was believable and interesting.

Feeling tall with the compliment, I was taken down a peg over the lyrics. Now Dennis was in agreement with my critics, saying he couldn't understand why novice writers constantly tried to do this. It's true that it isn't worth the wrath of the music industry, and is too costly to be worth while. Furthermore, it's a cheap trick (not his words, my interpretation).

Yet, I was defiant. My main character is a DJ. Of course it worked to have lyrics woven into the story. (woven? weaved? wurved.)

It took me years to accept this advice, positive that my story made all the difference in the world. However, over the last couple of years as I really revised my novel, the lyrics fell away to be replaced by richer original prose. I quit leaning on the lyrics, words of others, and figured out how to make music a relevant part of my novel. In a nutshell, I got creative.

The key here is that once I really dug into my story, really sought to stabilize the structure, the lyrics ceased to be necessary. They were placeholders, like planks holding up a wall without nails or joints. A gentle wind could take it down and everything balanced on top would crumble. And yet, the lyrics helped me to remember an emotion, or telling point as I worked through the layout of the novel.

Thank you, Dennis. I doubt you'd remember me, but thank you just the same.