Feel the Music in Your Words or Rewrite Them

Diane Lynn Tibert
Get into character -- Sing that Story

Some days I feel cursed. Other days, I can’t believe I’m this lucky. As the tenth of eleven children raised by parents both born in the 1920s, I was exposed to many different genres of music. As a result, on my MP3 player, you’ll find John Denver snuggled beside Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy and Rod Stewart squished between Donna Fargo and Buddy Wasisname, and Anne Murray rubbing shoulders with Helix and Andy Stewart.

Music has always influenced me in one way or another. It can enhance or change my mood depending on the day and the attention I give it. The melody of a song can set a mood, but it’s the words that can make me laugh, dance or shed a tear. The degrees of these emotions depend on whether I’m listening to the song or singing along.

But let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t sing well. However, I sing often.

Hearing someone sing their heart out may not tug on your aorta, but that may change if you put their words in your mouth. Personally, I can sit and listen to Son Run to the Spring by Cal Smith and ignore the story within the melody, but I can’t sing it with a dry eye. I become that boy who must run to the spring for water while my mother spares me from witnessing her silent death due to a long term illness.

Feeling the music can only be accomplished by putting yourself in the shoes of the song’s character. That’s not to say you’re Dean Brody, standing on stage in front of thousands of fans. You are the boy who must watch your older brother go off to war and wait for him to return (Brothers) and the young man who wonders about the lives of his high school girlfriend, his college friends and the girl who gave him up for adoption (Trail of Life).

Of course, you get the good parts, too. You’re basking in the sun on the Santa Maria (Trooper) and bragging about Who Wouldn’t Wanna be Me (Keith Urban).

Sure, you can just sit and listen, but you won’t feel the full effects of getting into character unless you sing those words.

Breathing life into the words you’ve written is done exactly the same way.

Before I submit anything, I always read it aloud. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 400-word blog or a 100,000-word novel, reading every word is the last step in editing. Actually, if I get stuck on a section of writing, I read it aloud. Often, it is all that’s needed to find that perfect word or the next sentence.

When I read, I take on the characteristics of the character. If I’m angry, I speak with anger. If I’m stumbling over my dialogue, then I stutter. Sometimes, I’ll use a Scottish or English accent, just to hear the story with fresh ears. It doesn’t matter if I get the accent right; the point is to make it different than how I usually speak.

Reading it aloud will point out problems in rhythm, uncover those words that sound too much alike and find words that have been accidentally left out.

In my novel, Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove, two of the main characters were Ellis and Alice. On paper, these names are easily distinguished. However, when you read them out loud in a sentence, they sound very similar – too similar for characters who will spend a lot of time together in a novel. In the end, I changed Alice’s name to Shona.

If reading your words doesn’t create the emotions you want to convey, then consider making changes. You don’t want to giggle in the middle of a tragedy and you don’t want readers to think a character is angry when he’s really trying to sweet talk his lover.

If you’ve never read your work aloud, give it a shot. Feel those words, make them yours. Guaranteed you’ll hear things from a new prospective – your character’s.

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8 thoughts on “Feel the Music in Your Words or Rewrite Them

  1. You’re so right. I resisted reading work aloud for ages, I think as I was almost embarrassed to hear my own words back again, but as soon as I started I realised how many things you can miss when you only work on the page.

    Also, wow, ten of eleven children – special occasions must have been wild in your house!

    • I’m still a bit self-conscious about reading out loud when anyone’s around, but when I’m alone, I whisper, I cry out, I laugh, I shout. I take on the character to see if what I’ve written is dialogue worth saying. And if something doesn’t feel right, that usually when I find it.

      I think the more you do it, the more natural it feels.

      We still do have big family get-togethers. This month, about 45 people showed up at the restaurant to celebrate my mom’s 83rd birthday. Naturally, we can all get a little loud, fighting for air time. lol

  2. Hi Diane, Thanks for posting on my blog. I came over to check out yours and I do like how you think. 🙂 For what it’s worth – I think you are going to have a successful time of blogging. Good posts!
    Blessings.

    • Lynn, thank you for your encouraging words. I wasn’t sure if I could commit myself to writing a few times a week. Once I started, I had to force myself to post only twice a week. 🙂 So many ideas came to me, I just wanted to write them all. So I wrote the ideas in a file. I won’t run out of material for a while. Anyway, my mind is always thinking of how things work, how one thing connects with another. I’ll probably never run out of things to write about.

      Thanks for stopping over.

  3. You’re absolutely right, Diane. Reading work out loud is always a good idea. For me, it helps pick out problems with rhythm, something that I happen to think is very important. I sometimes get hung up on eaxactly how a particular sentence sounds. It has to feel right.

    • Most of the time, my kids think I’m crazy when they hear me reading my story to check for flow. I keep telling them it’s part of the process. When they get bits and pieces of it though, they look at me strangely and roll their eyes. Hey, it would make sense if they read what came before it.

      On the other hand, my daughter overheard me reading the novel I’m currently writing — When a Boy Becomes a Crow — and wanted to read it. She insisted I print the first two chapters — all that’s written so far — so she could read it.

      Thanks for commenting.

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