Writing Music

So, I’m working on a project and I think I would like to have a character sing a song.  I’ve used music in my writing in the past, but it has always been an existing folk song or reference to a popular tune of the time.  This go round, I’m imagining something completely original.  The question is how to do it without coming off all Tolkienesque and forcing my reader to know what Bilbo Baggins hates. (Sorry, that’s a personal dislike.  I’m a fan of some Tolkien songs!)

Many years ago, I was part of a “write a novel in a week”-a-thon.  My book was about a girl whose obsession with a certain band lead to the creation of a new religion.  After the write-fest was over, I pitched the idea to an editor who told me it would never work.  “You can’t write music,” she said.  “You have to hear it.”  Yes, I know that’s all kinds of wrong, but that’s what she said and this was early in my career, so I let it go.

This time, I’m sticking to my guns.  I’ve started thinking of books that have used music successfully.  There seem to be two methods in novels—writing out the lyrics (a la LORD OF THE RINGS and “Baby Can You Dig Your Man” in Stephen King’s  THE STAND)  or simply describing the experience of hearing the music.   There’s a great scene in David Edding’s KING OF THE MURGOS that sticks out in my head, in which Polgara and a couple of the other ladies sing about an ancient battle.  That’s the scene that makes me want to write a song into this book.  I wish I’d remembered it when that editor poo-pooed me.  I’d have shown it to her.

Last night, I went back and read the scene again.  This morning, I rewrote my chapter.  And then, in a fit of inspiration, I went back and wrote the lyrics.  Seriously, I could sing it to you right now.  It needs some work and probably won’t end up in the finished book, but it helps to know what I am describing.  Now I’m excited to see how it turns out. 

So, what do you think?  Can original music work in a novel?  If so, what’s the best method—experience or lyrics?  And, if the lyrics exist, would you want to hear the songs, maybe as an audio or e-book extra? 

 NERD NOTE:  Tolkien actually collaborated on a song book with composer Donald Swann.  There’s another book of Tokien songs with music by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Yes, thatMarion Zimmer Bradley.  Think of the filking that lead to that creation!  (Filking is not a bad word.  Click the link and learn!)

 A REMINDER:   Don’t forget, I’m in Redondo Beach this Wednesday at Mysterious Galaxy.  Do drop in!