Writing and Music

In my head I’ve always compared music and writing. Both listening to music and reading books are two important parts of my life. Unfortunately, I am not blessed with any sense of pitch or rhythm. Thankfully however I appear to have more talent as a writer than I do as a musician!

I view literary fiction as being like the perfectly composed concept albums. Think about the Dark Side of the Moon where Alan Parsons worked with Roger Waters and the rest of Pink Floyd. On that record there is not a note or sound effect out of place. The whole is put together precisely, everything exactly where it needs to be. It’s probably not to everyone’s taste, and could probably be compared to works in other genres like really complicated jazz or even Bach. In literary fiction, every word is there for a reason. You know that the writer has pieced it all together so carefully, thought over the phrasing and the voice. Even sacrificed (to some extent) ideas like readability and commercial success to make something pure and perfect.

But then at the other end of the spectrum are pop songs. Short, sweet genre books, everything from chick lit to blokey mysteries and action books. Now, they ¬†shouldn’t be dismissed. Professors have studied the work of the Beatles and other artists like the Beach Boys to see how the perfect pop song should be constructed. Likewise a well constructed, straight to paperback, lightweight book is a joy in itself. It takes you out of yourself for a few hours and into a different world.

I’m sure there are plenty of other examples to be made. But this comparison also raises another important point. Many songs work incredibly well, even though they are framed within a very familiar template. Blues songs have incredible depth and passion, even though the format is quite strict and rigid. And the same applies for most genres in both music in books. In fact, I’d go further and say that in some cases, work that defies genre, is more challenging than it is satisfying.

What do you think? Is it just a strange way my brain works or can you see what I’m on about here?

by Graham H Miller


  1. I can see what you’re on about. It’s a good analogy. The literary fiction work will probably be well received in higher circles than the pop, but pop generally outsells its rivals in the end. I suppose it’s like finding your own place between the two.

    1. And I think literary fiction and more abstruse music (jazz and prog rock) also require that the consumer needs to understand something of the language of medium to get the most out of it. I’ve read some lit-fic and knew I wasn’t getting the most out of it because I wasn’t picking up the references. Part of the skill of writing something that’s going to shift big units is making it appeal to a wide audience.

      Thanks for your comments!

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