Writing and Composing


The assessment read-through for Perceval’s Shadow has shown me the amount of work that I’ll need to do on this second novel.  Also, Evan’s composer friend, Owen te Kumara, steps into a more prominent place in his life in this novel which means that I need to remind myself what composers do.

Composers write music.  As I described in my post How Does a Composer Know What to Write?, a composer’s writing process mirrors a writer’s in many ways.  Learning music is like learning a language, actually a foreign language, with an alphabet, notation system, vocabulary, grammar, syntax and common usage.  You need to know the rules and how they work by following them before you can break them.

Owen te Kumara has presented me with an interesting challenge.  I need to know what’s going on in his head in order to write him.  I’m not a composer, but I’ve had some experience composing music back in my college days.  I was terrible at it.  So my concern now is that I’ll be terrible at developing Owen as a composer.

He’s a secondary character.  Do I really need to worry about this?  Yes.  I’m of the school that believes friends reflect back on the person, i.e. Evan’s friends reveal a lot about who he is as a person.  I think of Owen as a projection, on an emotional level, for several characters, including Evan.  And I wanted to juxtapose a creator-composer with a re-creator-conductor in music.

Since finishing the assessment read-through, I’ve been mulling this thing with Owen, dodging its mental needling.  Composers don’t have to worry about creating and developing characters!  Well, except when they use words that they set to music as in opera or songs.  Music without words is a highly subjective experience for the listener, but a novel gives the reader a wealth of information and a story from the writer.

I want to think of Owen, and then compose him, like a musical motif that is stated in its original form in Perceval’s Secret then develops in Perceval’s Shadow.  It’s not that Owen has a lot of page time, but the time he has is important, as I’ve seen during the read-through.  He begins as a G-major chord, then goes to D-minor and works his way back to G-major.  He’s not a dissonant personality but soft, a sponge for life, sounds, experiences and emotions.  He’s a father, too, and this is a new detail.  The big question in the second novel: will Owen accept what happened in the first novel and find the strength to move on?  It is in this question that Owen mirrors the other characters whether obviously or not.

Read-throughs function like a sieve.  They allow the basic stuff through while catching the clunky stuff for me to work on.  I’ve been surprised by how much is already there and surprised by how much needs to be fleshed out.  Do composers deal with this sort of thing?  I would guess that yes, they write down ideas and then need to flesh them out, develop them, breathe life into them before letting them die or rest.  I wonder if a musical idea has ever talked back to a composer, told him just what he needed to do or disapproved of the direction he had the musical idea going?

While I worked on the first draft of Perceval’s Secret, when it was called Shadow Lovers, I used to have vivid dreams at night about the characters.  They’d tell me their names, where they lived, what they wanted in the story.  Evan Quinn terrified me because he’s a conductor and I knew very little about a conductor’s life.  I suppose I can take some comfort in the fact that my imagination found a way to get through to me — the dreams at night — to help me with Evan and his life for that novel. Evan would not shut up.

Owen, please talk to me….

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