For as long as I can remember I've always loved stories – reading them and writing them. I bewildered my primary school teacher with tales of evil Barbie dolls, navel-gazing my way through my teens, before settling on song-writing into my twenties and thirties – writing and performing with various local bands.
Last year I found NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month [link is http://nanowrimo.org/], scribbling more than 50,000 words of a first draft during November. Words began to flow, short stories and flash fiction followed and I was fortunate enough to find an excellent critique group, becoming a member of Phoenix Writers in March of this year.
Does that mean I have forsaken my musical background and joined the Monastery of Prose? Absolutely not. I love all forms of writing and penning songs has taught me a number of valuable writing lessons.
In these multi-tasking times of minuscule attention spans, listeners are ruthless. If you can't grab their attention in the opening seconds, they will have skipped away before you can say "Des O'Connor's Greatest Hits"
Today's readership is choice-rich and time-poor. Don't give them an excuse to stop reading. The first few sentences of your short story or novel must have that same hook - something that grabs them by the ears and doesn't let go.
Great songwriters know that how you structure or arrange a song is key to its success. They know the rules and aren't afraid to break them when necessary. Many songs follow a simple verse-chorus-verse structure. Lennon and McCartney frequently played with this traditional approach and subverted it on songs such as Can't Buy Me Love, the track starting with that jubilant chorus.
As writers, we need to pay close attention to the way we structure our pieces. Follow the example set by The Beatles – find the right place to start your story and don't waste your words or the reader's time. No story should be 'all verse' – unless it's a poem, of course!
Keep Building – use all your tricks
So, you've given them a hook, you've blown off their socks with that chorus… now what?
Sticking with our previous Beatles example, it's a bold move to unleash the catchiest part of their song in the opening seconds of the track and yet they are confident in doing so, knowing that they still have a few tricks up their sleeve - one of which is that superb George Harrison guitar solo after the second chorus. They just keep building, piling layer upon layer of musical brilliance until the listener is left breathless and stunned, desperate to hear it again.
Is that a tall order for your writing? Yes, without question, but pull it off and your readers will return to your work time and again. It doesn't matter if your genre is Romance or Sci-Fi, focus on increasing the tension and layering your story. Sharpen your dialogue and vary the length of your sentences to keep your audience entertained and engaged with the narrative. Knowing when to end is just as important as knowing where to begin, so tell your story and get out of there.
I could go on to talk about Voice, Rhythm and Tempo, but perhaps I'll save it for a future post. As any performer will tell you… "Always leave them wanting more."
Speaking of which, you can find more examples of my writing, including tips and advice, flash fiction and even a few of my songs on my blog, Kelly's Eye.