Pacing Tips from Queen

Yes. Queen as in Freddie, not Queen as in Elizabeth II, although I daresay she also has some interesting ideas if anyone ever asks her.

I’ve been listening to Queen a lot lately. Partly because a new character who is trying to get my attention likes their music, partly because I just love them more the more I hear them. Their wacky stuff is a lot of fun but they have some great rhythms, rocking tunes and, if you listen, some excellent and profound lyrics.

What I think makes Queen songs really stand out is how vividly they tell a story, and this is where the point of this post comes in. There are some great songs that I love by other artists, but they maintain more or less one pace for the full three (or however many) minutes. The best Queen songs (I’m thinking One Vision, Don’t Stop Me Now and Bohemian Rhapsody) vary their pace, sometimes several times over the course of the song, and the drama is increased massively even if the song is, with all due respect, rather silly.

Take I Want To Ride My Bicycle. It’s really a very silly song, although no doubt I’ll be shouted at by Queen fanatics for missing some deep meaning. But the rhythm and pacing not only fits the theme of the song but varies to add tension and excitement (quite aside from the naked girls in the video).

Don’t Stop Me Now is possibly one of my favourite songs in the universe ever. Pace-wise, it has all the structure of a good story. A gentle introduction, a fast-moving, main body building to a fab pay-off in the guitar solo, then winding up with a short, slower section. Incidentally, the other thing this song delivers in the whole music/story analogy is a really distinctive voice. You can practically touch the character who is singing, you know exactly what he’s singing about, what he wants, what he’s feeling, and the whole song is only three minutes ten seconds long. I’ll be pretty chuffed if I can get that kind of link between my main character and my reader so quickly!

The real killer Queen (haha. sorry.) song is, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody. Where to begin?!

I’m going to use some of their lyrics here, but in a massive disclaimer I’m not intending to breach any copyright and I’ll try to edit it so that whole sections are implied rather than given in their entireties.

So, the first section:

Is this the real life, is this just fantasy… all the way to …Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me.

Like Don’t Stop Me Now, there’s a nice slow introduction here where we meet the main character.

Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger; now he’s dead… ->

…Too late, my time has come. Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time.

Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go, got to leave you all behind and face the truth.

Mama, I don’t want to die. I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.

Here is the main part of the story. It’s like a mini version of the overall thing actually – starting slower, building up a little bit of speed then pulling back a tiny bit as the character gives his dilemma, his current crisis.

Then a complete change of tempo and atmosphere as the tension ratchets up:

I see a little silhouetto of a man…

Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening…

And the pace continues steadily as we get to a confrontation and a standoff, but as this builds in belligerence, it also builds in speed:

We will not let you go [let me go]; we will not let you go [let me go].. (etc!)


Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for ME!

And this is the fantastic climax of the story/song, and if you have the tiniest OUNCE of culture about you, you are at this point head-banging like mad in the style of Wayne’s World (If you don’t know Wayne’s World you are ridiculously young and uneducated).

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye

So you think you can love me and leave me to die

Ooh baby, can’t do this to me baby, just got to get out, just got to get right out of here

You do the head-banging thing, as a serious point btw, because you’re engaged with the story, the music and Queen have you right where they want you. It’s genius. Now, in my version that plays in my head when I listen to this song, at this point during the instrumental the main character has a violent struggle with his pursuers but they overcome him and drag him off “to face the truth”. The music slows as the denouement passes and winds up slowly and sadly, with the sudden drop in pace mirroring the sudden drop in hope and bravado:

Nothing really matters, anyone can see, nothing really matters

Nothing really matters to me.

And a nice bit of symmetry to end, when the backing singers echo the line at the start of the song but this time without its hope:

Any way the wind blows…

And that was my break-neck break-down of Bohemian Rhapsody as a guide to pacing a story; not so much how to do it, as I’m still working that out for myself, but the importance of varying pace to increase drama and engagement. Hopefully I have made some sense!

By the way, brownie points to anyone who can tell me why, at the end of One Vision, Freddie suddenly asks for fried chicken. I can sympathise with him, but I haven’t the faintest idea what it’s doing there and I’d love to know!

Friday Flashing

I’ve meant, for a couple of weeks, to have a go at the #FridayFlash meme on Twitter. I don’t know if you sign up to anywhere – if anyone knows, can you let me know in the comments please? Much appreciated. Anyway, the following conversation took place yesterday on Twitter between me and @alisonwells (whose excellent blog is here). NB read bottom tweet first:

So, gauntlet thrown down, I went away and did just that and here’s my Friday Flash Fiction. It’s very unpolished, so be forgiving please!

Alison’s Story

The peace was unprecedented. The hot weather meant that the children were out in the yard with a ball. The chores were done. The fire crackled in the grate with the kettle just beginning to bubble, and Alison pushed the window open a little further before checking everything was set up on her desk.

The tealeaves were carefully measured out. The tea cup was perfectly lined up with the milk jug to one side, while in the centre of the desk a sheaf of pristine paper stared at her, beckoning her. The quill and ink pot were positioned carefully to the other side. Neat, organised, just the way she liked it but so rarely managed to achieve. She poured hot water into the teapot and sat down with a sigh, wondering for the umpteenth time what it would be like in a world where women did not wear corsets or petticoats or have fires roaring in the heat of summer just so they could have a cup of tea or hot water. Shaking her head out of her fantasy, she picked up her pen, carefully shook off the excess ink and carefully wrote, ‘Chapter One’.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Jamie kicked the ball out of the yard. He did it on purpose, Mama, he did!” She went out, restored peace and recovered the ball, just before the coalcarrier’s cart went over it. Returning to her desk, she sipped her tea and recaptured the story that was still hovering at the front of her mind.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Jack pushed me. He did it on purpose, Mama, he did!” She went out and presided over the peace process, gave the stew a stir on her way back through the kitchen (fearing her sister Jane’s wrath should she let it burn before she returned) and took another sip of tea. The story still danced within her reach, and she picked up her quill again.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Jenny stole my marbles from me. She did it on purpose, Mama, she did!” She went out, discussed the stolen marbles and checked the washing on the line. Another sip of lukewarm tea helped her grasp an elusive thread of the story that was slipping away from her, and she picked up her quill again. This time she managed to write another word, ‘Once…’

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Joe called me a nasty name. He did it on purpose, Mama, he did!” She went out, delivered a short but pithy lecture on appropriate language, and returned to the desk, stirring the coals on her way past before they died to glowing embers. She stared into her cold cup of tea, wondering if there had ever been a story or if she had only imagined it.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, looking up to see a line of small faces in front of her desk. “Can we have some paper and your pen? We want to be writers, just like you.” Alison looked at the paper, the pen, then the hopeful gazes fixed on her. She pushed her chair away and, leaving them busy pouring their words onto the paper, she put the kettle on to boil again.


Lightning Bolts and Dragons

Well, it’s time to come clean. I have been holding off telling my family that I am writing until I had something that I could be proud of. The last couple of days have finally delivered that something in a dragon-shaped lightning bolt.

I have a finished book! No, really. Ok, maybe I should have warned you to sit down first…Recovered? I’ll carry on then.

The thing is, the book is not a major, groundbreaking work that I’ve been meticulously researching for months, nor an outstanding literary feat. It’s not even the kind of thing I envisaged myself writing a year ago when I decided to start taking this writing malarkey seriously. I always thought the first book I wrote would be a novel, almost certainly a Regency romance, which is what I’ve been brought up on. It turns out, my very first book is a children’s picture book featuring dragons. And it may never be accepted by a publisher, I don’t know. The thing is, I have an achievement – I have written a story and I am very proud of that fact alone. It’s a real story, with characters and a beginning, middle and end. There are a couple of minor tweaks I need to do but on the whole I am very happy.

And the biggest lesson for me in this is to take hold of lightning bolts that appear to strike from nowhere, however unlikely.

I didn’t set out to write a children’s book. It was probably the furthest thing from my mind to be honest. But this character has been sitting, twiddling his thumbs, in my head for a few months. Then he acquired a setting, but still no story, and busied himself until I could decide what to do with him. Then bam, in a lightning bolt out of nowhere, he starts talking to me. I guess he got fed up of waiting. And now I have 24 pages of picture book, waiting for me to finish editing and fiddling and send them away with everything crossed for luck.

It took some nerves to confess to my family that I was writing – it feels to me like a huge step, I don’t know why. Maybe because up until now I haven’t had anything I’ve been really proud of. But their reaction when they read it was the moment I have been waiting for for ages, maybe even years.

Oh, and by the way, I was wrong. Taking hold of lightning bolts is the second biggest lesson for me in this. The first is to remember how much fun it was. It was hard, getting the language the way I wanted it, asking my friends to test drive it on their children and waiting to hear their reaction. It was probably the hardest 500 words I’ve ever written. Trying to make sure that every word delivers the picture I see in my head, and that every line is entertaining. I think I’ve managed it, although I will probably always have some doubts. But, I can’t say it enough, it was fun. Entering the world of my characters, playing around with words to find ones that are musical and rhythmical, thinking of what my son would like to hear and how I could deliver it – that was magical, and has opened up whole, hereto-unconsidered world of possibilities for me. I’ve already got another little character whispering that she wants a turn at being a story.

I shall be updating regularly with progress, and when I’m a multi-millionaire just remember – you saw it here first.

Book Review: Nighty Night

I’ve decided to start a new series of blog posts. On a regular basis I will review a book that my two and a half year old son has recently read. But don’t just take my word for it, check out The Daniel Pages for his point of view.
The first one we’ve chosen is Nighty Night by Colin McNaughton (click here to see on Amazon).

This has become part of Daniel’s nightly routine and he calls for it without fail. Technical stuff first: It has twelve double pages with bright pastel colours, big bold text (that becomes bigger or smaller to reflect tone of voice!) and appealing cartoons. The story builds up to a wonderful rant by Littlesaurus about why he doesn’t want to sleep then closes with a lovely, snuggly ending. I actually think one of the reasons we all love this book so much is because Littlesaurus reminds us so much of Daniel, and I suspect any parent will recognise their lively toddler in our hero.

The parents, Mummysaurus and Daddysaurus, are also brilliantly drawn – again, I recognise both myself and my husband in their reactions to bedtime. I love when Mummysaurus tells Daddysaurus that he’s supposed to be calming Littlesaurus down and he slinks away guiltily.

The only negative thing I can think of is if you are trying to encourage your child to stay in their bed all night, this might not help, as Littlesaurus ends up snuggling in between Mummy and Daddysaurus. But it’s such a sweet ending I love it anyway!

Reading the story is a lot of fun for both us and Daniel. The sentences are short and snappy, and Daniel loves to echo them back, sometimes finishing them before we do! I can see this being a favourite for years, and will be a good choice when he starts reading on his own as the text is so clear and the words are a good mix between challenging and manageable.

There is another book advertised on the back cover, featuring the same characters, dealing with potty training, and as soon as I finish this post I will be popping over to Amazon to buy it. If Potty Poo-poo Wee-wee is as much fun as Nighty Night I can’t wait to get started.

Thanks for reading our first book review. I’d love anyone to comment if they have read this book or can recommend similar, or if there’s anything I’ve missed off the review. If you have a book you read to your children and fancy putting up a review use the Contact Me page to send an email letting me know, it would be great to hear from you.

Don’t forget to pop over to The Daniel Pages to get Daniel’s verdict on Nighty Night!