Thursday, March 28, 2013

Swingin' the 8th Notes--A Post About Writing Technique

Because I teach piano lessons, sometimes it helps me to think of analogies that involve music. There is both a wrong and right way to do many things, and learning to play an instrument is one of them. This is where the word technique comes in. Hand crossovers are better technique than hand jumping, same with finger crossovers. Rounding the fingers make it so your poor stubby thumbs get to participate in playing alongside the rest. Learning to play scales and arpeggios properly helps you to become a better overall musician because when you recognize these in a song, you automatically know how to play them and which fingers to use.

Well, when it comes to having good technique in your writing, it is no different. That's why we have grammar and punctuation rules. That's why sentence structure is important (because words on a page don't mean much unless they're coherent). Good technique means you learn the importance of point of view, voice, pacing, character and world building, and dialogue to name a few. For most beginning musicians, and even some experienced ones, technique does not come easy. It takes PRACTICE. It takes LEARNING. It takes TRIAL and ERROR.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking. If there is a technique behind writing, why is every single book so different? I'll tell you. There is something that is not included in technique. Any guesses? It is STYLE. As a music teacher, I love it when my students swing the 8th notes on their own. In some pieces, there will be a note at the top of the page telling you to swing the 8th notes for a jazzy or more upbeat feel. When I have a student playing a song that doesn't ask for that, and they swing the 8th notes anyway (especially if I haven't even showed them how to do it yet), I beam with pride. Why? Because I know they are showing their individual style. They are expressing that, to them, the song sounds better with swinging 8th notes. Would this technically be considered correct? No. But I let them swing, knowing that musicianship is every bit as important as the notes on the page.

So, as writers we have to constantly be learning and practicing good technique. But we also need to find our individual style. Here's hoping your style is developing nicely.

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

The problem is that these days, to go with your analogy, most writers try to rely on style without having any real technique. Or just the bare, bare minimum.