3 Points of Writing & the Universal Rule

My brother, a musician, named three properties that become his focus as he works to craft a piece of music. They are: the key of the piece, the tempo, and the kick pattern.

“Making sure the song is in the right key is essential,” he said. “You would be amazed at how changing the key of the song can change the entire feeling.” He talked about some songs we both knew and how they didn’t work the same way with a key change. “This especially goes for songs that modulate for a build at the end. It can be catastrophic for certain song structures.”

“The second thing I experiment with is the song’s tempo. I have songs I struggle to keep from being too slow or too fast.” He talked about one of his slower songs, Give In. “I played with the speed of that one for quite a while. Any slower and it lost its intensity, but playing it faster took away from the serious mood.”

“The last thing will probably sound shallow, but it’s not. It’s the kick pattern. And I’m not talking about the beat of the drum so much as the pattern in the listener’s head. You want them to anticipate when the drum is coming, even when the sound isn’t there at all. The listener needs that. But you don’t want the pattern to be predictable, either.”

As he talked, I realized the method to his music was the same method I use to improve my writing. Instead of using chords in a key pattern, I’m focused on the structure of the setting. The setting of the story houses the mood, the atmosphere, the foundational guidelines of my piece. Without it, my work has suffered from being too ambiguous or lifeless. I’ve changed the setting suddenly, and it’s ruined my whole story.

Tempo is obvious. I’ve discussed the importance of keeping the pace of a story in the forefront of a writer’s mind—not letting the characters slip into reveries or flashbacks at the wrong moment, making sure there is a goal the story continues to move toward. Even the simplest digressions can have an impact on the way your reader perceives your work. Some digressions bring your reader into a closer connection with the experience you’re sharing, and some digressions confuse, and even polarize, your reader.

Lastly, there is a pattern created by the writer in every story. Sometimes it’s called the voice or the style of the work. But it’s more than that. It’s that unspoken rhythm of thought the reader recognizes and latches onto. This is comparable to the kick pattern of a song, I think. Certain stories ooze personality, the story’s own flair, from the first word. Tolkien had a beautiful sense of this. Mary Shelley played around with it in Frankenstein. (Personally, I think she overplayed it.) Maximum Ride held readers with a snarky, hard-edged flow–not just the dialogue, but the storyline itself rattled with that teen angst pattern. These three examples are easy to pick up on, but all literature of length sits within a pattern that the reader subconsciously recognizes and expects to continue throughout the work.

My brother opened my eyes to this universal rule of the artist: We don’t mold the message alone; we mold every pause between. From the dead spaces to the underlying matter, we orchestrate and riddle out the kinks, so the listener can get to know the work without needing to know why it resonates.

Author: Rilla Z

I'm a scribbler. I'm genuine. My topics of interest are: this world, the worlds inside my head, and the world to come. Oh, and cups of tea. Yes, I write about my cups of tea.

7 thoughts on “3 Points of Writing & the Universal Rule”

  1. You put so much thought and care into your writing that this breakdown of rules and points is an interesting peek into your process. I’m not sure I have the patience to put this much work into writing something, so that’s why my writing comes out somewhat lacking.

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    1. Your writing isn’t somewhat lacking, Mom O!

      I enjoy the process and putting the work in. We all have a passion for something. We all have a different way of looking at life and expressing ourselves. It’s a lovely journey, finding that passion and working at it, and that looks different for each of us. ❤️

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  2. I love finding similarities in different art forms. One of my favorite writing lessons was actually an art lesson: don’t use bold colors for everything. A bold, brilliant red will catch the eye so much better if there are dull grey colors in the pallet too.

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    1. Oh, that’s a great principle to translate into writing! I would compare the imbalance of color to having so much action that character development gets neglected. I can think of a couple of children’s books that leap from crisis to crisis. They seemed too overwhelmed to provide any chance of useful thought or dialogue. (I didn’t read the next books in either series because I wasn’t invested in any of the characters.) I’m curious to know how you define the color in your writing—how you incorporate that art lesson in your work.

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      1. Yeah, in terms of story structure, I think you have to give the reader at least a little time to breathe between each crisis. Otherwise it gets to be too much.

        But in my mind, that art lesson has more to do with word choice. I tend to use a lot of flowery S.A.T.-style words in my writing, and I end up having to tone it down. I think those bold, colorful words (so to speak) work better when they’re contrasted against the grey tones of plain English.

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        1. Your comparison is spot on. I have to tone down my word choices, too. I call them “crunchy” words because they are delicious while the brain is munching on them, but they don’t help the smooth flow of narrative for the reader.
          I’m so glad you commented!

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