Friday, 11 July 2014

Symphony in Words

Recently I attended the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and enjoyed performances of Beethoven’s 1st and 2nd piano concertos. I was moved and delighted by the music and the talent of the performers.

As I looked down on the great range of instruments and absorbed the creativity of Beethoven’s work, it occurred to me that there was a parallel with writing a novel and a great lesson to take away as a writer. While the central figure in the concerto was the pianist, who was absolutely captivating, there were so many other instruments that played a vital part in creating the overall impact of the music. Each piece came in at exactly the right moment to lead into a particular movement, or to add light or dark to the unfolding experience for the listener.  Some instruments had only a very small part to play, but added a dramatic transition or change of pace. Some were obviously important support instruments and filled out the character and beauty of the music. Others instruments were woven throughout the recital, as background or accompaniment, not drawing attention to themselves, almost unnoticed, but vital to the overall sound.

The conductor, of course, directed and held all of this together, exquisitely interpreting Beethoven’s genius, so that the audience was taken on a wonderful journey through quiet reflection, rousing heights of joy or tension, delightfully pure sounds that sent tingles down my spine, then led to a dramatic climax and a sweet conclusion. 

Just as a novel ought to, I thought as I relaxed in my seat afterwards!

How important it is that as writers we draw our readers into a story that includes all these aspects; central characters who are captivating, support characters who help the reader to get to know, love, anguish with and be inspired by the main character, and who give the story depth and breadth. Minor characters are also important, in adding light and dark, changes of pace, transitions to new chapters. I was reminded that the role of these characters who accompany our heroes and heroines, must be unique and special in their own right, and must be introduced at precisely the right moment in order to carry the story forward or to make a particular impression on the reader.

I love music, but I am definitely a listener. I have no talent for playing an instrument or singing. Amazingly I have children and grandchildren who are talented in both and I love to hear them singing and playing. What I feel then is proud enjoyment. However, seeing a complete orchestra, with so many different instruments, all playing beautifully, and all working together in such harmony and purpose, made me feel like I’d been on a journey, been transported into a story. I came away uplifted and refreshed, but also inspired to reflect on the novel  I’m currently working on, in terms of the lessons the orchestra had shown me.
I hope this gives other writers some food for thought.
Carol writes historical novels based on her family ancestry in Australia and include the Turning the Tide series; Mary’s Guardian, Charlotte’s Angel, Tangled Secrets and Truly Free. Her earlier novels, Suzannah’s Gold  and Rebecca's Dream have been re-released by EBP. You can see more about Carol and her novels on her website or her author pages on FB and Amazon.


  1. Thanks, Carol, for a great read and reminder of the music our novels need to make. Brought back memories too as I had a season ticket to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra concerts for years but then became too busy to attend. Loved those times of being transported elsewhere--especially via Beethoven, who is my favourite composer!

  2. Ah Carol, as a music lover, as my dear husband is a classical violinist, I also appreciate the great composers. I'd never thought of our novels in this way, yet how similar they are to the orchestra involving all its instruments.A lovely comparison.

    Even the tuning up at the start corresponds to the research we need to make the story ring.

  3. I love your analogy Carol - a good story is like a symphony, bringing all the elements together in with just the right timing. I don't hear live orchestral music very often but when I do, I find the pieces seem to be telling a story too.

  4. Hi Carol,
    It's a beautiful analogy, and feels so satisfying, after all the hard work, when we sense we've got the balance right. According to my husband, who plays saxophone, it's the same for musicians.

  5. I play in a brass band, and also see an analogy between a concert band or orchestra and our Christian walk. We get the best results as we persevere through a combination of individual and group practice, making sure we follow the plan and obey the conductor.

  6. Glad you all enjoyed the analogy. I am currently on Fraser Island and loving the beauty of nature which is also rich with story

  7. Carol, enjoy your holiday (and the warmer weather!) on Fraser Island :)