Writing about Writing about Writing (Part II)

(Part II of today’s lecture. I hope you’re taking notes!)

OM NOM NOM. NOM. Ahem, right, I’m back from lunch. (Mm, ostrich burgers…)

Today I’m going to be doing some work on the series of short prequels I’m doing for ‘Rooks’. These are four prequels of under 20, 000 words each, one of which is completed, one of which is over half done, one of which is 4, 000 words completed and one which is only 2, 000 words so far.

At the moment the most neglected is the 4, 000 words one, done in the POV of the younger sister of one of the main characters, focusing on an event in her brother’s past which was referred to many times in the first novel. The reason it’s been neglected is that I’ve gotten up to a point where my POV girl, Sophie, must sing a song.

And this means I’m going to have to write a song.

Did I mention I’m not a song writer?

Because if I did, it was a lie: I’ve written two short songs for my novel already, and as an avid world-builder I’ve done ceremonial chants and ritual recitals for this and other novels as well. But it’s just not as easy as just thinking of a scene and describing that in prose like my regular writing, no, because this is supposed to be a song that someone else has written, in a world that is not mine.

So think twice before putting songs and poetry and writing into your work, especially if it’s supposed to be your main character’s poetry, and your main character is supposed to be the best poet/writer in the world; because this is one of those times telling without showing is a cop-out, and then you find yourself having to write the best poetry in the world, or at least some good stuff.

Ah, what the hell, do it anyway—do whatever you like!

First, the direction I want the song to go in. The situation in the story is this: something terrible has just happened. Sophie is with a group of her classmates who are all worried and agitated. Knowing Sophie is a talented singer, her best friend asks if she will sing something for the class, but all that is coming to Sophie’s mind is a macabre old verse about the remnants of humanity being wiped out by a falling star.

Sophie is trying desperately to think of something that brings hope or solace, but I don’t want her to suddenly start singing the perfect song for the situation. It will probably be something she’s been practising recently with her choir, or with her singing partner, something that’s at least better than ‘the end of the world’.

But what do I want it to be about? It’s likely the song in question will either refer to Arthurian mythology, or to the history of the place Sophie knows as Camelot; formerly London. Suddenly the answer pops into my head, as answers often do—I’ve known for some time that on one of the soldiers’ excursions outside the forcefield around Camelot, they found a copy of Thomas Malory’s Complete Works, which had been inscribed in the London Underground during a period of mass book-burning by a figure known as the ‘Blessed Scribe’.

I’ve known for some time that the finding was not entirely by chance, and that the Round Table were not entirely forthcoming to the public about the tome’s circumstances, and I wanted this to form part of a conversation between two other characters much later on in the series. Why not introduce the concept here, with a song someone else came up with in which they tried to imagine what the person who discovered the Works might have been feeling at the time?

Problem one solved.

Fortunately, I don’t actually have to be a composer for this one. In order to get a tune across I’d probably have to include sheet music, so thankfully for now I am but a lyricist. If the book becomes popular enough, someone else may try to put the words to music, someone with an ounce of musical talent, unlike me.

And now to a blank page in my notebook, for the lyric writing extravaganza. After I write the title I think about how literal I want the song to be. In this case, not very, it’s meant to be a more recent song than those I decided had come earlier, which were indeed more literal, and this can be indicative of a trend. In which case, how will it go?

An idea emerges—the song will be the singer’s interpretation of a person they know nothing about: they imagine that this person, who found the book in question, may have been faced with doubts about the Scribe’s canon. This singer doesn’t want to go for obvious references, like the quest for the Holy Grail, they believe the Works were discovered by chance. Nor will they imply supernatural forces were responsible for the finding, this will focus on the mind of the person who found the Works.

First of all, a verse that describes their doubt. For a few minutes the first line has been flashing in my head like an annoying prat with a torch. Time to write the little shit down.

‘And Is there truth in the stone?’ she thinks,
And is there a truth in the word?

‘Is there truth in the stone’, is the first thing that comes to my head, the rest is added in to improve the rhythm. And almost immediately there’s a problem, because this is the same rhythm I used for the last song I wrote (the one about the falling star), and this time I will at least need a different rhyme scheme or it will look like all the song-writers of this world shared my limitations.

A few seconds later a rhyme scheme comes crashing in through the window, and yells ‘I’m your rhyme scheme, whether you like it or not!’ and I guess I have no choice. But this means the next lines have to end on an easy rhyme, because there will be three in a row.

So, why is our song-writer’s character questioning the word of the Scribe? ‘Word’ is one of the rhyming words, so I need to find a rhyme. The first thing that occurs is ‘heard’, which can probably be tied back to ‘word’ easily enough, but then ‘occurred’ suggests itself, along with a full line to go at the end of the verse.

‘What may not have even occurred’

Because, of course, there’s no evidence for what’s written except that it’s been written, and not much is known in Camelot about the Scribe except that she was a woman, and what her actual name might have been. Now for the three short lines in the middle, and I’ve decided the first two should describe the character some more, the third should lead into that last line.

And when the first line eventually comes with a suitable last word, the next two follow, and after some changes our first verse reads thus:

Is there even a truth in the stone, she thinks;
And is there a truth in the word?
For she is a knight of anonymous sort,
Who waits out the darkness unwillingly caught;
And she and her ghosts are invariably taught,
What may not have even occurred.

I’m not sure about the ‘unwillingly’ there, I think ‘caught’ might imply a lack of willingness by itself, I may come back to that one. The anonymity and the ‘caught’ refer to the fact that the soldiers of this Camelot, the ‘Rooks’ from the title, are chosen and then drafted and forced to give up their identities for the rest of their lives. But we can’t dwell on that for too long, we must move on to the second verse, where I want to get deeper into the way the writer has imagined this character.

For this verse, I think we can start by mimicking the first line of the first verse for ease of flow, hence—

Is there even an end in sight, she thinks;
And is there an end to this fight?

And already I don’t like the fact that ‘sight’ and ‘fight’ rhyme. Fight is eventually going to have to rhyme with something, and when I think of the word ‘flight’ I decide I actually want to change fight to flight. Because she’s a Rook. And Rooks are birds. And birds fly. So rather than sight, what can we do? *Fingersnap!* Refer back to the first verse and replace ‘in sight’ with ‘to the darkness’!

Or is that too much of a call back? Ah, I know! Instead of darkness, I’ll use ‘tunnel’ to call back to the underground tunnels. I am a genius!

Is there even an end to the tunnel, she thinks;
And is there an end to this flight?

Now I can use sight, light, fight or any other ‘ite’ word at the end of the verse. Might. Bite. I like that one, I wonder if I could use ‘bite’?

Will clamp down on her wing bones and bite.

Well, there is that. It also gives me the restraint of  having to lead into it with my three quick middle rhymes, maybe describing this character’s pain and doubt, perhaps bringing the problems the Rooks have with the rest of the citizenry into it.

While shadows and substance will scratch at her eyes.

Yes, I like that that one, it takes the need to use ‘will’ away from the next line, which I think will improve the pacing. It makes the mid-rhyme ‘ies’ though, let’s see what we can do for the two preceding lines with that in mind. ‘Dies’ is obvious. Cries, lies (which could mean two different things) tries, guise, wise, pies, (okay, not that one), size, ties, prize, skies.

It cuts her as if there is nothing she tries,
That could break up the shell of the old world skies.

Don’t like the first line at all. Scrapping both of them.

For her bloodied talons are pinned where she lies,
Wrong-sided, entangled, between the Knot’s skies,

Much better. The ‘Knot’, by the way, also referred to in the title, is the forcefield that surrounds Camelot, properly the ‘Endless Knot’, though that was not its original name. So:

Is there even an end to the tunnel, she thinks;
And is there an end to this flight?
For her bloodied talons are pinned where she lies,
Wrong-sided, entangled, between the Knot’s skies;
While shadows and substance will scratch at her eyes,
Clamp down on her wing-bones and bite.

So, not too cheery so far, huh? It’ll pick up in the next verse, but this is all we have time for tonight, because I met up with a friend I wasn’t expecting to see in town today, and we spent the day eating. OM NOM NOM.

Tomorrow I will continue by coming up with a chorus and some more verses, and then I think I’ll show anyone who really cares how it will fit into the story with the excerpt that actually uses this song.

Until then!

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