Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Paperback Writer on Bass and Plot Lines

Wow, the Beatles really pegged the plight of the author in their 1966 hit, Paperback Writer, written by Paul McCartney. The song is essentially a query letter from an aspiring writer to a publisher.

Some of the lyrics:

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer…

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few,
I'll be writing more in a week or two.
I can make it longer if you like the style,
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer…

If you really like it you can have the rights,
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer…

Sound familiar? Kind of crazy that this tongue-in-cheek view of a struggling writer is still bang on almost 50 years later. The tune was also one of the first of the Beatles songs to feature the bass as a solo instrument. I dig it. As a member of an all-woman band, and a bass player, iconic bass lines are my current musical obsession. ;)

I equate a solid bass line with having a solid plotline. In most songs, you may not be able to pick out the bass riff, but it is there. Locking the drums and guitars in, supporting the vocals, balancing the highs and bringing out the lows. A simple bass riff is sometimes best – grounding the other instruments, keeping them on track. This is called “rooting” – sticking to the root notes of the song – and essentially that’s the role of your plot. It is the glue that holds your fictional world together.

Yet when given the opportunity, the bass can dazzle, much as a rich plot can wow the reader, taking them in new directions. A bass line foreshadows and pre-empts key changes, supports verses, builds to the chorus, and can offer a haunting fade out.

Just like a solid plot line full of rising action, conflict, ever-increasing tension, an epic showdown, and falling action.

Remember, when you’re outside a concert venue, it’s the bass you feel pulsing with the beat of your heart, thrumming under your feet, drawing you in.

I dare you to listen to the next song you hear and listen for the bass – I bet you’ll be surprised by how much it adds / fills out the tune. My fellow paperback writers, consider the beauty of a solid plot line – it ROCKS!

~Judith Graves
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  1. I love this comparison! So true. Every story needs 'bass' to be complete. ;)