The Story Needs Music


So, I fired my characters the other day, the whole lot of them. They stood there, dumb with confusion, as I raged at them.

“You’re dull, you’re cardboard cut-outs, you’re not revealing anything to me, no matter how many hours I sit at the computer or in front of my notes. I’m here, floundering, and there you stand off in the distance, offering no hints or advice. So I give up. I quit. I quit this whole stupid business. Get out of here. Out of my head, out of my life.”

They don’t move.

“What are you waiting for?” I ask, my voice rising. “Get out!”

“Dad?” Kylie, my thirteen-year-old narrator asks, looking up at Patrick, who steps forward.

“Here’s the thing,” he says in that father-knows-best tone of his. “There’s no music in the story. That’s why it’s not working.”

“What, like the cadence of the words, the paragraphs, the way the story flows? It doesn’t sing yet, is that what you’re telling me?”

“Well, that, and more,” he says, and Susan, his wife and my second narrator, nods. “Literally, there’s not enough music mentioned in it. Like there was in the last novel.”

“But that was a novel set in the performing arts world. This one isn’t.”

“Well, why don’t you just toss some in?” Patrick suggests. “A little Beethoven, maybe Dvorák. Did you know he was passionate about trains? It was a hobby of his.”

“Look.” I wave my hands as if that might make their spectral presences back off. “Trains and composers and classical music—that’s way off the mark. Catholicism, faith and spirituality, duty to family, everyone sort of stuck in their beliefs and perceptions—that’s my story.”

Kylie whispers something to her mother. My ears prick up. “Excuse me?” I call out.

She shrinks. Susan answers me instead. “She said it sounded dull.”

You’re dull,” I shriek. “That’s why I’m firing you. All of you.”

“Um, with all due respect?” Susan sounds both nervous and resolute. “I’m not dull. You just made me that way. Because you never bothered to figure out what made me tick. What I yearn for and dream of.”

I let out my breath in an explosive exhale. “Fine. Tell me.”

“Okay.” Susan reaches up to pat her long, unruly blonde hair—I really need to write in a haircut—and then nods. “You made me a literary specialist. It’s just that I don’t want to be a literary specialist. I want to work with kids, grades K to 3, fine, but not as that.”

“As what, then?”

“As a ballet teacher.”

“You?” I don’t even bother to hide my scorn.

She lifts her chin a notch before replying. “Why not? I took ballet classes all the way through high school. I performed.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“I know.” Her tone is reproachful.

Patrick rejoins the debate. “Ballet would connect well with a music motif. And look, you’ve already got that scene with Kylie going into an ecstatic trance listening to the Bach Toccata and Fugue.”

“And I bring up the Schumann story to Freeda,” Kylie says eagerly.

“The Schumann, of course,” Patrick says, looking at Kylie and Susan but not me, which annoys me. “That part about throwing himself into the Rhine.”

“Perfect.” Susan beams. “She could expand on that, on the way it ties in with Freeda, the way she…”

“Stop right there,” I exclaim, looking around nervously. “That’s giving away crucial plot. Do you mind?

They manage to look both perplexed and smug. “Well, didn’t you say it was all over?” Susan asks. “That we were fired?”

They’ve got me and they know it.

It’s not hard, what they’re proposing. In fact, it would be easy as anything. I’d much rather be writing about music than about church ladies squabbling over Catholic doctrine in regards to Kylie’s mystical experiences. Music and mysticism—that works.

And Kylie was right. There’s the Schumann that’s already mentioned.

Something sleeping in me awakens and my thoughts begin whirring. I could have Susan and Kylie go to the symphony one Sunday. In fact it would be perfect. Susan, aching over the troubles I’ve thrown on her shoulders, aching over Mahler’s Symphony no. 1, the way I did last September, the Mahler exposing all my secret hurts and pains and longings.

It would work perfectly.

I look up and they’re trying to hide the smiles growing on their faces. I do my best to scowl at them. “Well, don’t just stand there. We’ve got work to do. Come over here and help me lift this thing off the ground.”


12 thoughts on “The Story Needs Music”

    • Oh, MarySue, all the time! It’s like a club, there in my head, with the characters, new and old, mingling, advising me, advising each other over how to deal with me. : ) And quite a few of the characters show up in multiple books. Kylie takes the prize, as she is featured in the one I’m developing right now, which is set ten years after the story the above blog entry references. (Okay, I admit it, I didn’t just write this entry. You, MarySue, probably figured that out, huh? But I laughed out loud when I re-read it the other day and thought, ooh, must go on my blog.)

      Thanks for commenting, MarySue. We both share an artistic slant and perspective, so now I’m wondering, as an illustrator and visual artist, do you have anything similar going on?

      Would love to hear from any other creatives on whether they experience something like this! That means YOU, silent reader who is nodding and smiling right now. ; )

    • Amanda, me too! And hear it, too, oh, so clearly.

      Um, wonder if I should be admitting this, and/or be so happy about it? Gulp… Answers to that could be found for 90$ an hour, once a week, stretched out on a leather couch, I’m sure.

      Hmm… maybe I’ll go ask my characters’ opinions first.

    • Kris, no kidding. And that Patrick character is the worst of all. Body language screams either “bully” or “father knows best” (depending on whether you’re an adult female disagreeing with him, or his kid). I swear I had no hand in writing that in. He just emerged from my mind, fully formed, being that way. I’d say he was the most deserving of being fired, for attitude alone, but dammit, the truth is, he’s the strongest character for that very reason.

      Love that you stopped by and commented – thanks!

  1. First, I can count, but the mathematical captcha above won’t let me give the right answer! 9 + three = 12, right?

    So anyway. Sounds like your characters have fired you–fired up the musician and dancer in you. Who are you to argue?

    • Yikes, is the Captcha is being stupid or what?! Maybe you needed to add “duh!!” to the response of 12. So sorry about that! (But ah, the spam-clearing Captcha gives me with those math questions.) Glad it finally let you post, and you had the patience for it. And good point. Anymore these days, when and how the muse shows up, I don’t question. I just think “yippee!” and work as long as s/he will allow. Gotta say, it ain’t like the old days, or the first novel, where it all poured out of me in this chaotic, lovely mess.

      Soooo glad you could stop by, check this out and post a comment, Carolyn!

  2. Oh I love this! A conversation between an author and her characters is so unique, and the little kumbayah moment at the end is delightful. Brought a smile to my face.

    • Tara, I’ll bet you were smiling extra broadly, having seen the final results of my efforts on this project, and knowing Patrick, Susan and Kylie “personally”, if you will. Don’t you agree that their personalities here are exactly the way they are in the story? It’s weirdly reassuring. Kinda takes me, the author, out of the equation, as I sit back and let them direct things. Sometimes I need that.

      I’m smiling over your description of “the little kumbayah moment.” Oh, perfect! : )


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