No, this post isn’t about music, but the above impromptu clip can serve as a writing analogy. It’s just a simple little groove, shot with a phone, with no rehearsal or audio processing or anything.
In other words, it’s the first draft of an idea, not a polished manuscript. It could undoubtedly be better were it rehearsed, recorded with decent microphones, and mixed with some processing. (In writer-speak, it needs revision, polishing, and editing.) And already I can tell how I’d “rewrite” it. (IMO it should be maybe 10 bpm slower, with a little more triplet feel “swing,” more quarter-note accents on the cymbal bell, and a little more orchestration around the kit, instead of primarily on two toms. Perhaps with a shaker overdub. And of course, it should exist within a song, serving as a support structure for other instruments and melodic ideas… it’s certainly not a complete story within itself.)
But still, even in early draft stages, it tells me what I need to know—does it do what I want it to do? Does it evoke a slight world-beat vibe (interesting setting)… can I hear the “song behind the song” (subplot)… does it have an implied melody (theme)…?
And—getting granular here—did the hi-hat add the right texture? Because what makes this little experiment work for me isn’t the obvious stuff (what the hands are doing). To me, what makes it worth exploring at all is what the left foot is doing… the slight jazzy lilt from the little hi-hat notes on the “ands” in between the quarter notes. For me, if they were absent (or—almost worse—right on the 1-2-3-4 quarter notes), then it would be obvious/plodding/boring to the point where I’d have zero interest in using it.
(Think of writing a story about a geeky-yet-goth girl, the adorkable guy who sits behind her in math, their insta-love, and their Scooby gang of misfits that save the world in between episodic bouts of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Yawn. Now make the characters senior citizens, but no ‘Assisted Living Rom-Com’ here—because NFW can they afford it—so they all live in a shitty little trailer park on the edge of town. With the currently-more-ambulatory taking turns caring for the currently-bed-ridden (though they all rotate through all positions sooner or later), until they’re forced to resort to crime to cover the increasing cost of their meds. In between bouts of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, of course. Because really, who’s more likely to blast Zeppelin at annoyingly high volumes—a sixteen-year-old with earbuds or a hard-of-hearing 70-something?)
My point is, sometimes what we need to do to find our emotional way into a story (see: Finding a Way In and a Way Out for more on this) is to change some aspect of the story to make it uniquely ours, to make it fresh, to make it resonate with us. You could age up all your snarky teen characters… by sixty years. You could take a “He Said, She Said” story and instead of showing Scene 1 from her point of view and then Scene 2 from his, you could show Scene 1 from hers, then turn right around and write Scene 1 again, only from his POV. You could tell a poignant wartime tale of destruction and loss, but instead of telling it in the voice of the heroic child protagonist, you could have it narrated by Death, who—far from being a heartless killer—is basically a kind, introspective being who feels overworked by the stupidity of man.
None of these is a gimmick, any more than playing a subtle offbeat with your left foot is a gimmick. The story may work without them, but your particular slant adds an intangible quality, a certain you-ness to it that may not only feel new and unique to the reader but—perhaps more important—feel new and fresh to you… which may give you the inspiration and motivation to dive in and do the hard work necessary to bring it to fruition.
One of my dad’s favorite quotes was a line from The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” He first heard of the quote by way of James Dean (who apparently appreciated it for the way he felt it related to acting). Taking that same philosophy a step further, I’d say it applies to any creative endeavor, whether acting or music or painting… or writing.
So find that little thing… that invisible thing… that essential thing… that makes your story feel like yours and no one else’s. And once you add that small essence to the mix—so small others may not even be aware of it—you’ll have something amazing.
Something only you can do.
Something that is you.
This is where I write about things that are of interest to me and which I think may be of interest to you. I’m assuming most of you are here due to an interest in reading, writing, editing, publishing, etc., so that’s the primary focus.