About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Research, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Steep and Roll

songwriting 2This is a concept that I am gradually beginning to understand how to use. A friend once critiqued my first novel with:

“There’s so much great stuff in there it needs to slow its roll and steep a little, meaning take longer to explain things and have a nice build up.”
– Chris Gabriel, song writer

Chris explained it as a technique that professional song writers use.Β It made me wonder how many other song writing techniques could apply to story writing. So, I researched song writing advice and found dozens of tips. Here’s the top 6.

1. Practice. Like any other creative process such as playing guitar or programming synth sounds, lyric-writing is a skill that can be learnt and improved upon.

2. Don’t be disheartened if your lyrics aren’t perfect on the first draft. Many professional writers will rewrite a song’s lyrics dozens of times before they make it onto record.

3. Persevere. More often than not, songs aren’t born, they’re created and sculpted. Don’t expect a song to arrive fully formed; they sometimes take time and you’ll need to work at it.

4. If you can’t quite figure out how to say what you want within a particular line, jot down the gist of it and move on to another part of the song – you can come back to it later. That way, you won’t spend hours wrestling with one small line that might turn out to be insignificant in the wider context of the song.

5. Try to have a clear idea of what the song is about. You should be able to sum up the essence of the song in one sentence.

6. Analyze other songs. Try to pick out the differences in lyrics between your favorite songs and your own and apply any lyrical techniques you learn to your own work.

I think we story writers can learn a lot from song writers. Oh and, if anyone has insight into “Steep and Roll,” please post it in the comments?


15 thoughts on “Steep and Roll

  1. mimispeike says:

    Structure, to my way of thinking, boils down to pace. Pace is very important in graphic design. Give the eye things to focus on, and places to rest. This applies equally to writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. atthysgage says:

    I was a songwriter long before I was a book writer, also a singer, but whether I could sing or not is arguable. I was in rock bands into my twenties, and then did solo gigs at coffee houses for a few years after that. Really, I sang because I wanted to write songs. No one else was going to sing them.

    For me, aside from the advice that might apply to all writing (see items 1 – 6 in the above post), the most important carry over from song writing to novel writing is realistic dialog. Whether it’s a song or a novel, what your characters say needs to feel like the way people really talk. Not all the “ums” and “ers” necessarily, but just a good ear for what sounds like real people talking. Not every song has dialogue, of course (most, in fact, don’t) but if you’re in first person, your song narrator needs to sound like a real person.

    (Of course, there are great songs that run roughshod over this particular piece of advice, but there are exceptions to every rule.)

    Most good songs have narrative elements. Embrace same. Let real people populate your songs.

    And your stories.

    Liked by 5 people

    • mimispeike says:

      I am a great fan of Greg Brown. A storyteller supreme. I especially love A Taste of Summer – that may not be the exact title … “My grandma put it all in a jar.”

      Tim Buckley – I love his music/melody, and his soaring voice – but his lyrics are for the most part, bullshit. I love Tim and I hate him at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • GD Deckard says:

      Me too but. Sometimes, I think it’s pace. We can mega-pack meaningful info into a sentence, or, we can slow down and express our information in meaningful lines.
      Other times, I think it’s the rhythms of the scene and maybe the flow of the story as a whole.
      Mostly, I just think I have to be aware of how the story reads by line, paragraph and scene.
      In the end, I suspect “steep and roll” is not a technique so much as an artistic awareness.


      • Perry Palin says:

        I too thought steep and roll was artistic awareness of the proper pace at which a story should be told. Some early novels take chapters to get their stories started, and then they just wobble along. Some later ones present the stories so fast I can’t keep up, I miss important facts in information overload, and I can’t enjoy the trip. What is the right pace for a story? The answer is different for every one.

        I wrote a slow buildup in my first (theretofore unpublished) novel, then read how these days we have to grab the readers hard in the first few lines or lose them.I liked my first opening Then I started the next draft with the action that I thought
        really belonged in chapter 3.

        Once the story is moving along, it should move at a pace that neither puts the reader to sleep, nor has him turning to earlier chapters for comprehension. Steep and roll.

        Liked by 3 people

        • mimispeike says:

          You have that exactly right. I struggle with that all the time. I’m struggling now, trying to start chapter ten. When I have trouble starting a chapter, it’s a hint I’m coming at it from the wrong angle. Tonight at work I had a better idea, I’ll see how that goes.


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