Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Writing Your Book is Like Writing A Melody

with guest Helen Gray

How many times have you heard agents and editors say they want writing that sings?
Plato said, “I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for all the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.”

Agent Karen Ball described writing that sings as writing “that calls to my heart and mind, that draws me in and, in the process, changes me.”

Let’s do some analogies.

What is a melody?

•    A melody is a series of notes played one after the other.
•    A good melody is a series of notes that is highly memorable and that feels complete when we listen to it from start to finish.
•    A good melody must be pleasing and interesting, and it must come to a logical conclusion.
•    A good melody can produce a strong emotional response in a listener.

What is a book?

•    A book is a series of scenes written one after the other.
•    A good book or scene is a series of scenes that are highly memorable and that feel complete when we read it from start to finish. A good book must be pleasing and interesting, and it must come to a logical conclusion.
•    A good book can produce a strong emotional response in a reader.

 What constitutes a flawless performance in music or writing? 

•    The performance often looks easy enough, so easy that the listener or the reader feels that, with a little practice, he/she could do just as well.
•    Part of the secret of stardom in any career is the perfection of techniques to such a degree that a production is so beautiful, so smooth, and so polished that it appears to be effortless.

Every written communication is a production put on by the writer.
•    A career writer, therefore, is more than a scribbler of messages; actually, she/he is a music maker. His/her sentences, paragraphs, and entire communications can be made to sing just as truly as a violin and a bow can be made to sing.
•    A poor writer is poor because he continually sounds "sour" notes and makes glaring errors.
•    An average writer is average because he occasionally "flats" a note by writing sentences without refinements that are the mark of a polished performance.
•    The highest accolade goes to the writer who is an artist, the communicator whose words make flawless music. To become a star on the writing stage, a performer must perfect his command of advanced writing techniques.

What are some techniques that make our writing sing?

Word Usage

•    To perform acceptably as a writer, we must have facility in the use of synonyms, antonymns, and homonyms.
•    We must avoid trite expression, repetitious wording, and negative wrods.
•    We must communicate in a precise manner.

Positive Words

•    Positive words are pleasant to hear and to read.
•    They are words that create a receptive, pleasant glow in the mind of a reader.
•    The master writer knowingly uses words that produce this desirable psychological effect. 

Here are some words that evoke a positive response.

advancement         courage           genuine      satisfaction
agreeable              eager              gratify        success
attractive               earnest            happy        trustworthy
cheerful                 easy                integrity     valued
comfortable           encourage        liberal        victory
compensation        enjoy                pleasure    warmth
confident               fortunate          profit          welcome
cordial                  generosity        progress     willingness

Planned Repetition of Words

•    Repetition is one of the cardinal principles of advertising; therefore, an ad writer must be adept in planned repetition of words.
•    The following ad is repetitious, but the repetition is clever and purposeful.
Aspirin will add years to your life, and Aspirin will add life to your years.

Words and the Sound of Music

A sentence sings when the words in that sentence create a flow of pleasant sounds. To compose sentences that flow smoothly, a writer should avoid the following:

•    Using Too many Harsh Sounds.
In our language there are many unpleasant-sounding consonants; j, dj, ks, qu, nk, sh, s. Listen to the sound of these words: gesture, satchel, tragic, illegible, church, cabbage, virtue, anxious, bushel. Listen to the harsh music produced by too lavish a use of the unpleasant s and sho sounds in the tongue-twister "She sells seashells by the seashore."

•    Using Too Many Similar Sounds
Many words, although different in meaning and in spelling, ahve similar sounds. An expert watches for these sounds and does not use too many like sounds in any one sentence.

•    Correcting the This or Thus Fault
A rather common writing fault is the use of this or thus to refer to an entire preceding thought. This lack of definiteness sometimes forces a reader to rread, or to recast, a sentence in order to comprehend the writer's meaning.

•    Correcting the So and the And So Faults
Another technique of the polished writer is to avoid the writing of sentences in which so or and so is used to introduce a clause.

Music and writing must both FLOW. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they're practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

Then, when a book is finally finished, we get to do the re-write. We are the technician tuning the instrument/book, adjusting chords, vibrato, pianissimo, all done utilizing a choice of verbs and reflection.

Does your writing sing? How can you put the melody in your stories?

My second book, Ozark Reunion, released June 1. Leave a comment today for a chance to win your own copy. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition!


In the aftermath of the Great Depression, it's time for Riley to start over. And the first step is winning the trust of his Missouri hometown. But it isn't easy for a man with a troubled past. Especially when his first love, Jolene Delaney, seems to believe that the new rumors about him are true. 

After Riley broke her heart, Jolene threw herself into teaching school and caring for her father and little sister. But she knows something is missing from her life. Especially when she comes face-to-face with Riley again. Can he convince Jolene that he's truly a changed man? Or will he succumb to old temptations and destroy her faith in him once again?



Helen Gray grew up in a small Missouri town and married her pastor. While working alongside her husband in his ministry, she had three children, taught school, became an amateur ventriloquist and directed/accompanied church music programs. Now that she is retired and the children are grown, she has resumed the writing she began when they were small.

Her stories are meant to honor God and depict Christian lives and problems as she knows and observes them. If her writing in even a small way touches others, she considers it a blessing and thanks God for the opportunity.

Helen's latest booksigning at Wal-mart!



  1. The coffee pot's ready and waiting.

  2. Great post, Helen!
    This really struck a chord with me. (Okay...I couldn't help myself...I had to toss in a silly pun, LOL).
    Seriously, you pointed out some super helpful reminders and advice that all writers can use (I certainly can!).
    I'll grab a cup of your delicious coffee in the morning---right now, I'd better get some sleep.
    (No need to enter me in the drawing---I have your wonderful Ozark books thanks to the Heartsong book club!)
    Hugs, Patti Jo :)

  3. Your comments are music to my ears, Patti Jo. :)

    See you in the mawnin'.

  4. Helen, You have given me a lot to think about. I am guilty of a few of these. I will need to be on the look out and do something to correct it. Thanks for the reminder.

    I would love to win a copy of your new book.

  5. Glad the tips put you on the lookout.

    You're in the drawing.

  6. Thanks for that list .. I will be making use of them as I try to encourage my favorite writers. Really am looking forward to winning this book, Helen. Thanks for always making sure there is fresh coffee, too!

  7. Good grief, you cannot do your own coffee on your day as a guest blogger.

    Take that apron off immediately.

    Now go sit on the guest throne.


    Okay, I am now in charge of the coffee and tea.

    We have macaroons for the night owls.

    Fresh chocolate croissants from Patti Jo's Cafe and Bakery will arrive at 6 EST.

  8. Ohhhhh macaroons!

    I love the analogy to a singing voice, Helen, probably the best I've heard. And love that your walmart is so encouraging!

  9. "The performance often looks easy enough, so easy that the listener or the reader feels that, with a little practice, he/she could do just as well."

    Ohhh, this is so true.

    And then we start writing, and realize how very, very hard it is. After that, every "effortlessly" brilliant story reminds us how much hard work is behind the beauty.

    Great post, Helen!

  10. LOL, Tina.

    And now I'm going to sit here until 3AM PST jusqu'à ce que je tienne mon croissant chocolat.

  11. Wow -- what a unique perspective...only scary because I'm tone deaf, hopefully not in my writing though. :-)

    Love your book signing set up. Where did you get those big posters of your book covers? Hope you cover your office wall with them!!!!

  12. I'm with Tina. You shouldn't have to do the coffee on your day.

    Thanks for a wonderful post. Put me in for the drawing!

    Peace, Julie

  13. Hi Helen,

    Great book covers. You must be so pleased.

    Thanks for explaining how to make our music sing. This is a keeper post!

  14. Yay, Helen! Great to see you back on the post side of Seekerville! Love the analogy. I want my books to sing far better than I do. Thanks for the excellent writing tips and the coffee!


  15. Helen, I loved the analogy!

    I don't have the greatest voice but that doesn't keep me from singing and I love music!

    You made an eye-opening comparison!

    Please add my name to the drawing.

    Janet, I missed your post yesterday, but I enjoyed it this morning!! Yesterday was a wild day that started early! Love your tea cozy. :-)

  16. Good morning Helen and welcome to Seekerville today. And you brought coffee but by now I'm probably getting some of Tina's. I'm enjoying the pastry anyway.

    Great analogy to music and I love that your Walmart supported you so nicely. What a fun autographing you had.

    I just love seeing our Seeker friends getting published and doing so well. woo hoooooo

  17. Helen...congrats on your second book! I read the first one (loved it) and am so anxious to read this one! Please count me in!
    I am so inspired by you....blessings~
    Just a reader...

  18. Helen...congrats on your second book! I read the first one (loved it) and am so anxious to read this one! Please count me in!
    I am so inspired by you....blessings~
    Just a reader...

  19. Helen...I really enjoyed this post. It's given me a lot to think about. There are times that I feel like my writing is singing and is striking the right chord or note. I'm working on doing it more consistently.

    Your book sounds lovely and I would like to be entered to win a copy.

  20. Marianne,

    You're most welcome for the coffee.

    I'm a list maker. I live by them. Glad you find this one helpful.

    You're in the draw.

  21. Good morning Helen,
    I have no musical ability whatsoever, but appreciate your post because it's clear the disciplines are similar.
    Please enter me in drawing.
    Kathy Bailey

  22. Yes, yes, Madame Tina. Hands are off the coffee pot.

    I'll have a glass of tea please.

  23. Thanks, Melissa. I tend to take a musical perspective on many things.

    I can't tell you how appreciative I am of my local Wal Mart.

  24. Virginia,

    It looks so easy. But it's definitely not. And it's just as hard with each story.

    How many times have we heard people talk about how they're going to write a book someday. But they never do.

    It takes commitment and perseverance. And some day sheer doggedness. :)

    But we have a lot of perseverant people here in Seekerville.

  25. Virginia,

    It looks so easy. But it's definitely not. And it's just as hard with each story.

    How many times have we heard people talk about how they're going to write a book someday. But they never do.

    It takes commitment and perseverance. And some day sheer doggedness. :)

    But we have a lot of perseverant people here in Seekerville.

  26. Kav,

    As I told Virginia, I tend to think in musical terms a lot.

    As for the posters, I didn't know about them for my first signing. Rose told me I could get them and who to contact. They came from Harlequin.

    The Wal Mart manager put them up in the front of the store a couple of days before the signing. And when I got there for the signing, the ladies at the customer service desk told me a customer asked if she could have them. Of course, I was stingy and said no.

    Thank you again for the lovely review you did for my first book.

  27. Julie,

    Hands are off the coffee pot.
    And you are most welcome.

    You're in the drawing!

  28. Jackie,

    Yes, I am well please with my covers. I just got the art work for the third book.

  29. Janet,

    Thanks for always making me feel welcome here in Seekerville. It's good to be back.

    Sometimes it's hard to explain why one book works better for us than others. The intangibles make such a difference.

  30. Mary Hicks,

    Glad you found the analogy useful.

    You're in the drawing.

  31. Sandra,

    I appreciate you Seekers having me here.

    The store manager was out sick the day of my signing, but by the time I left, 100 books had been sold. (That includes ones sold during the 2 days the rack had been up.) He had promoted it well.

  32. Jackie,

    Thrilled that you liked the first book.

    You're in the drawing.

  33. Mz. ZeyZey,

    Glad the post gave you food for thought. If you're like me, you're always looking for tips.

    You're in the drawing.

  34. Kathy Bailey,

    Glad the analogy worked for you.

    You're in the drawing.

  35. Hi Helen

    Never thought of writing in terms of music, but it makes sense. My problem is misused words, mainly because of auto-correct, but I'm such a poor speller, I have to use it. Too many same sounding words strung together is a bane of mine.

    I've read your first Ozark book, very enjoyable, and need the second. Love it when books in a series come out quickly.

  36. Helen, great post and analogy! I'm a great music appreciator, but alas, the talent that my parents had musically (my father is a trained opera singer), did not come to their first child. My mother would explain to people that her croaking-voiced first child liked to express her artistry on the page, not on the stage. Bless her. Thank you so much for your awesome post!

  37. There you go, Piper. On the page, not on the stage. I'm the momma of a musician and professional ballerina and I can't sing, dance or walk and chew gum at the same time, but I can write.

    Great melodic tips, Helen.

    More coffee is on the way!

  38. Elaine,

    Yes, Auto-correct is just one facet of computers that we love and hate.

    And the same sounding words can cause us major trouble.

    Delighted that you enjoyed the first book.

    You're in the drawing.

  39. Helen, tell them how many books you sold at Walmart. This gal is a Walmart dynamo!!!

  40. Piper,

    You don't have to be a musician to appreciate music. Or a writer to appreciate good books.

    But writing is an art.

  41. Great post, Helen! I have noticed that some words sound more harsh than others. I never wanted to name my girls with "C" names because the "C" name with the last name of Carver would sound harsh. I wanted my girls to have soft, feminine names. I have applied this to the names of my characters but not to word choices within the story. You've given us a lot to think about. Thank you!

  42. Tina,

    My mother was tone deaf, and I'm the only one of her four children who was born with a music addiction.

  43. Tina,

    When I left Wal Mart after the signing, there were 92 books left on the shelf. He had ordered 192 (4 cartons of 48) and put them up two days before the signing.

    100 books!

  44. Meghan,

    You're right to take care about harsh sounds. It's the kind of subtle thing that will affect a reader without him/her being aware of what it is about the book that is a negative to them.

  45. Helen,
    Love, love, love your cover. I don't often see snow scenes used and yours draws me. Lovely!

    Great blog! I can't sing and always wished I could. Perhaps I can make my prose do what I can't.

    John Updike said he knew when a story was ready for submission...it was when he heard the music of the words.

  46. Congrats on your Walmart success story.

    100 books!!!

    You go, girl!

  47. Helen, congrats on your second book!!

    This is a fun post. I love music, so I do like to connect writing to music. Thanks for being with us today!

  48. Oh, Helen, this post made my heart sing, girlfriend, because the music of rhythm and flow is one of my very favorite things!!

    LOVE the music analogy and your examples. Makes my fingers itch to get my hands on your book, my friend, so SUPER CONGRATS on the debut!!


  49. WAIT A MINUTE ... 2ND BOOK??? I just read Missy's comment and realized I've missed out big time!!

    Not a debut, apparently, so it looks like I have TWO books to read ... ;)


  50. Good morning, Helen. I enjoyed the blog and plan not to "flat" out the music. Your list of harsh consonants, positive words and "word faults" will help this novice writer! Please enter my name in the drawing for your wonderful book.

  51. Debby,

    I'm very pleased with my covers. And I'm always surprised at which scene they choose.

    Great Updike quote!

    I owe my Wal Mart manager more than I can every repay.

  52. Good morning, Helen. I enjoyed the blog and plan not to "flat" out the music. Your list of harsh consonants, positive words and "word faults" will help this novice writer! Please enter my name in the drawing for your wonderful book.

  53. Helen! What a great analogy between writing and music. I loved it!

    My daughter plays the bass. You know, the giant of the string section? She plays in two symphonies, plus plays occasionally at church for an offertory. That means she practices.

    When she practices a new piece, we hear all the flat, sour, and off-tempo mistakes. But after some time of working on the piece, we hear the beautiful music come to the fore front.

    I think of my first draft like that - once it's done, the revising (and revising, and revising) can let the beauty come out.

    So pumped about your Walmart book signing! You give me the courage to approach our Walmarts.... Thanks for the tip on the posters from Harlequin. Who did you contact for them?

    And don't put me in the drawing - your new book is on my TBR pile. I loved the first one!

  54. Missy,


    I've confessed to being a music addict. But here's the funny thing. I don't play music when I write. I prefer silence and isolation to write, no distractions.

  55. Hi Helen,
    There are many connections between writing and music and I agree with you.

    I also enjoyed today's side-discourse regarding the coffee! Helen, after such a well thought out post,you deserve to sit back and put your feet up! And considering your blockbuster signing day recently, you REALLY need to rest your signing hand, too! Congratulations on your many successes!

  56. Jan Drexler! Love your new profile pix. Always wear your hair down. Gorgeous.


  58. Lyndee,

    Glad you agree with me.

    And I've taken my hands off the coffee pot. :)

    Will I see you at conference this year?

  59. Tina,

    I cheated.

    When I counted those books before leaving, only 99 had been sold. A friend came along and I told her I needed to stay a little longer so I could say I had sold 100 books. She had already bought one, but she bought another for her sister and made my hundred!!

  60. Helen...

    LO! You didn't cheat.

    You sold 100 books no matter who bought the last copy or why. :)

  61. Yep, I got'em, Debby!!!

    I don't know how many have sold since. I went by to sneak a count, and the manager had dismantled the rack and placed the books in batches at the checkouts.

    I was too self-conscious to run around from register to register counting books. :)

  62. LOL. Helen, that is not cheating! That's obsessive compulsive. Welcome to the club.

  63. This post was chock-full of great stuff. Helen, you wouldn't happen to be a teacher, would you? HA! :)

    This exact lesson would be workshop, esp. if you had a pina, or a few instruments (flutes, guitars, etc.) to show the discord.

    And...on another note :), I'll be singing,

    Jolene! JolENNNEEE...!
    Please don't take my man...

    the rest of the day.

    You're welcome.

  64. Helen! Such great advice!

    This is beautiful: "Music and writing must both FLOW. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness."

    Thank you for your post. Love the photo of your signing event!

  65. Does my writing sing?

    Uh....okay, sure.


  66. Pam,

    So glad I could set you singing!!

    You oughta see me high step with a marching band. :)

  67. Sherida,

    Glad my analogy worked for you.

    So far my signings have been fun.

  68. Mary,

    Your instrument of choice is a gun!!!

  69. Love this, Helen! My whole family loves music, so these analogies are great!

    I do pay attention as I'm writing to the flow of the words and how they sound. Sometimes progress stops while I search around for exactly the word or sentence arrangement to suit my "ear." My computer thesaurus and hard copy of The Synonym Finder get used a lot!

  70. JAN, my hubby is (was) a bass player. For years, the student bass he played from junior high on sat in a corner of our living room.

    Until one day . . . I was dusting . . . and . . .

    Well, it just sort of fell over and the neck broke. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

  71. Myra,

    I suspect that you progress faster than I do. I tediously check for the right words or details as I go along.

    My husband understood when we got married that my toys came with me--piano and trumpet.

    And I'll keep my suspicions to myself about your story. :)

  72. Pinned this! As a lover of books and music, this post especially spoke to me. :) Would love to read your book!

  73. Jennifer,

    Ah, makes me smile to connect with a fellow music lover.

    You're in the drawing.

  74. Myra,

    Why do I have visions of "A Christmas Story" and a lamp?

    And if my daughter's bass "fell over" while I was dusting...well, let's just say she might have me arrested for murder :)

    His name is Bernard.

  75. Okay, this is brilliant.

    Helen, you know I've long admired your work, and even knowing your musical "bend", seeing this in print made so much sense to me.

    I've always marveled at how a skilled songwriter can make us laugh or cry or long in 16 bars with reflective and/or repetitive phrasing....

    I find that A-M-A-Z-I-N-G because they can tell a story that makes me cry in a few musical stanzas and I need tens of thousands of stinkin' WORDS!!!!!

    This makes so much sense to me! You opened my eyes to more than word choice, but to word cadence. This is a printer-offer and poster to remind myself that the flow of good words is balanced on the notes of emotion.

    Thank you!!!!!

  76. Ruthy,

    You humble me. I've always come to this site to LEARN, not feeling that I could teach you already published writers.

    My actual teaching experience is actually more in the area of finance, but music has been a passion all my life.

    But you're right about how music can move us. Just as lyrically written books can do. I'm glad my analogy made sense to you.

  77. Hello Helen! Love your post. The symphony I work for is AMAZING, and I kept thinking about the hard-working musicians that I have a privilege to know. Like another poster mentioned, all their hard work and rehearsals, when they hit those flat notes, or don't get the timing right, is just like a rough draft in writing. Then, on concert night when they deliver those beautiful performances, it's the publication of the book!

    But then there's always the next performance, the next concert, the next rehearsal...the writing process starts over with each new project, but you get better and better with each one.

    Oh my. Now I'm going to go home and add a bit more to my symphony murder mystery tonight.

    Have a great day!

  78. Stephanie!!!

    You added to my analogy. Great job, girl.

    Hope to get another chance to sit by you at conference.

  79. Hi Helen,

    So great to see you here!

    I was going to mention those large posters, too! How great! Do you know if they do them for Love Inspired as well? If so, I am getting one for my Feb release!!

    Congrats on your releases and on selling 100 books!


  80. Susan,

    I'm assuming that all LI authors can get them. E-mail me and I'll give you the contact info.


  81. Kids are gone, and I just got back here. I wanted to comment early today but little ones took precedence.

    I liked the analogies and references of this post because they made such sense to me. When I see notes of music, they mean nothing, I have no understanding of scales and keys, etc. but I can make up my own alto to complement a melody, I just don't know how to write it down.

    So when I read this, I could "see" that for authors. Sometimes we can do things without realizing it's a gift or talent and then it's tricky (because it's intrinsic) to share the process. Helen, this is the teacher side of you melding with the talent of writing and discernment. Those are just plain great qualities.

    And now I'm tired of being nice, I've been nice ALL DAY LONG and it's wearing on me.

    Is Connealy here? May I mock her, please???? :)


  82. Congratulations on your book being out Helen! I can't wait to read it. Thank you for this post. It gives a lot of food for thought and is one for the 'keeper' book.

    I would love to win a copy of your book!

    Smiles & blessings,
    Cindy W.

  83. Okay, Ruthy, you're excused from being nice any more today. Cnn't have you spoiling me.

    But you must exert yourself again tomorrow. Got that?

    See, you don't have to be a trained musician to appreciate and participate in the art.

  84. Thanks, Cindy. Hope you enjoy it when you get the chance to read it.

    You're name is in the drawing.

  85. Hahaha! I just read Myra's comment about breaking the bass. I nearly choked.

  86. I love Jan's hair down too....

    Jan, you style-chickie, you!!! LOVE IT!!!!!!

  87. And just youse know, I was somewhat nice tonight. It was fairly easy because I was alone.


  88. Helen, the comparison between music and writing is marvelous! So many good points. Your mention of 'so' and 'and so' concerns me because I've come across several of those in editing. Must go back and improve.

    The snow on your cover looks wonderful. It was in the upper 90s here and very, very humid.

    Best wishes with Ozark Reunion!

    Nancy C

  89. Thank you, Nancy. Glad you stopped by.

    It's hot and humid here, too.

    I'm pleased with the covers Heartsong has done for me.

  90. 100 copies!

    At my first book signing I sold out of the 9 copies our bookstore ordered... and I felt like a rock star.

    Great job!!

  91. Virginia,

    It has to be a God thing.

    I sure couldn't have orchestrated such a thing.

  92. Helen, congratulations on your success! I am looking forward to reading your books! I live within 20 minutes of four Walmarts and have never heard of a book signing at one. 100 books, Woot!

  93. Donna,

    I haven't known of any either.

    I'm in a small town, and my local manager decided that a signing by a local author would be a good thing. I'm so glad he did.

  94. Great post, Helen! Thanks for sharing!

  95. Hi Helen,

    Your post was excellent today, making the case that writing is a musical art. When you shared about pleasant sounding words I was challenged asking myself whether or not I agreed. Thinking it over I agree and admit your examples clearly prove the point. I'm thinking conversely that unpleasant sounding words could also be used when writing tones where the artist is wanting to convey scenes of anger, despair, violence, etc. What are your thoughts on this point? Thanks

  96. Helen,
    You look great on Seekerville. Aren't you glad you kept after the dream one more year? I'm glad for you.