/* Mobile Menu Retract ---------------------------------*/

avoiding feedback: THE POWER OF SONG

This is post #23. You’re writing a musical, right? So take advantage of the POWER of songs and let them do most of the heavy lifting.




Time to talk about songwriting. Even if you’re the book writer, you are very heavily involved in how the songs function in the musical, and you need to take full advantage of that and take full responsibility for it.

In this vlog I want to talk a little bit about the power of the song. I mentioned this a little bit last time, about how if all of your emotional moments and all of the important things were happening in dialogue, and not in song, then you’re writing a play. If you’re writing a musical, you’re doing it because you want to rely on the power of music and the ability that music has to elevate a story, and to elevate the emotions of a moment. So if you’re doing that, then you need to trust that. You need to trust that that’s what your song is doing, and you need to make sure that you give that power over to the song.

What this means primarily is: the dialogue leading up to the song needs to set up the song and make the song inevitable, and build us to it, and earn the song. But it can’t tell us ahead of time what the song is going to be about. The song needs to accomplish the goal. So in other words, if someone needs to make a big decision, you want to be careful that you don’t write the book scene in which the person goes “Yes, god damn it, that’s what I’m gonna do” - and then they sing a song about how glad they are that they made the decision. Because then you are abdicating the power of the song. Put the decision in the song. Let the person be waffling and trying to figure out what they want to do, and then within the body of the song- the person makes the decision. So, they haven’t made the decision at the beginning, and they have by the end.

If they’re trying to convince someone of something - they shouldn’t have convinced the other before the song starts, and then sing a song about how happy they are that they’re on the same page. You’re not taking advantage of the power of the song. Let the song do the heavy lifting. Set your characters up for a discovery; a confrontation; a decision; something of major of emotional import and dramatic tension - and then let the song accomplish it. Let them start in one place, and let the song lead them to a new place.

Musical theatre works best when these moments are happening in song, as opposed to the moment happens, and then we sing about it afterwards. You will find examples of it in the literature, and you will find in particular - more in the realm of opera. Although the lines between musical theatre and opera are blurry and hard to really define, but I think that might be one of the difference: because opera tends to be much more about the beauty of the song and the beauty of the voice, than it is about character development or plot movement. So, the plot gets accomplished more in the dialogue or, in the case of an opera, the recitative, and then the character gets to dwell in a particular emotion, and live in a particular motion. Happiness, anger, whatever it happens to be - and they get to make it sound beautiful in a song.

But in musical theatre we really want the action to happen in the song. So don’t abdicate the power of the song.

A slight little caveat to that, is that what tends to mean is that you really want plot to happen in the song - but I think you need to be really careful to make sure that important and or really integral or complicated plot points don’t happen solely in lyric. Lyrics are fantastic and wonderful, when they’re well done we can learn a lot through a lyric, but there’s a limit to how much detail and complexity of plot a lyric can really deliver to us. So if you’re not careful, you’ll find that by the end of a song you’ll say “Yes well they decided to take this ship there, and do that, and do this, and do that, and you’ve got this whole complicated thing that has happened - but it happened only in lyric, or it was mentioned once in one lyric in passing and by the end of the song - your audience may not be as clear as you think they are on what has changed in the plot.

So yes - I think plot should happen in a song, but bookwriters should know that a very well-placed line or two or three of dialog within the body of a song can accomplish so much. So that you don’t have to put all of the workload on the lyric to accomplish all of the little details. The lyric can accomplish the larger details and the emotional content and it certainly can accomplish plot, but just be aware that a very well-placed line or two of dialogue here or there inside of a song can be your salvation in terms of accomplishing some plot points and making sure they’re really really clear.

So don’t abdicate the power of a song to the scene. Make sure that that these important moments are happening within and during a song, but also know that that doesn’t mean that they can’t be accomplished at least partially in dialogue. It doesn’t all have to fall on lyric in order for this plot movement and this character or character progression to happen within the body of a song.

Sometimes you will find that you are accomplishing a lot of work in the dialogue leading up to the song, and then maybe you’re accomplishing more afterwards and you’re worried that if you try to pack it into the song it won’t be clear. I don’t think you want to put in the book what’s going to happen in the song, and you certainly don’t want after the song is over for something to still be left to be done. You don’t want to have someone set them all up - they’ve got a big decision to make - so they sing this song about the pros and cons and “what should I do” and “I have to make this big decision” - and then the song ends and there’s a pause, and then they make a decision. That’s just as much abdicating the power of the song as having the decision happen beforehand. You really want it to happen IN the song. So by the time the song is over, it’s time to move on to a new beat- we’re done now. We’re done with whatever the song accomplished and we’re ready to move on to the next beat. So really look at your book and make sure that you aren’t just pre-empting the song at the beginning, and that you aren’t just being redundant about what the song has accomplished by the end of it.

Sometimes what that might mean, when you look at the dialogue that you’ve written, is that you might want to intercut the scene with the song a little bit. You don’t have to just have a scene, and then a song, and then we move on. That’s the wonderful thing about musical theatre: you have the potential for musical scenes. Which means that that you can have song and dialogue work in tandem to get you where you want to go. So that the song has started and therefore it is within the context of the song that the plot, or whatever big moment is happening, will happen in the in the context of that song. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be just a line or two a dialogue. There could even be full-on scenes within the song. It tends to work best if you get through at least an AABA of your song first before you start breaking it up too much, but you could have a little mini-scene happen with underscoring, and then you have a contrasting C section to the music while they realize what they decided to do isn’t going to work, and then there can be another little scene, and then we can get ourselves back to the A section, or another repeat of the B. Take a look at the material and don’t decide it has to be either in the book or in the song. You can combine them by creating a musical scene.

But most importantly: make sure you use the power of the song - so that within the body of the music, whether it’s in lyric or dialogue or a combination of the two, that something is happening in that song. That the characters are in a different place at the end of the song than they were at the beginning of the song.