I’ve been listening to a lot of black metal lately–two bands in particular–though it’s not music I’ve historically enjoyed. The body painting, studded leather, and fake blood, not to mention the music in general, all seemed ridiculous to me. Even when I did find good black metal songs, I couldn’t really enjoy them because the vocals were always drowned in the mix. I don’t mind screaming, but if I can’t even hear the vocalist over the guitars, then it might as well be instrumental. In that case, I wouldn’t want to listen to 10 minutes of blast-beats.
But this April, a new American Black Metal band called Deafheaven came out with their debut, Roads to Judah. After listening to the album a few times, I found myself actually enjoying the music but still wanted them to turn the vocals up. As I wrote a review for the album, I was forced to consider my conflicted feelings. I reached the conclusion that the vocalist in this genre of music is just another instrument, adding to the atmosphere and emotion rather than being the focus, like in almost every other genre.
This got me thinking about my writing. I’ve always known that I don’t write deeply layered stories, and part of that is because I’m terrible at revising. Just like listening to this music for the first time, I can only see what’s on the surface. And just like how the vast majority of music listeners often cling to lyrics, I often cling to one aspect of the character, the setting, or the plot. I fail to see any other problems for fear of loosing that one aspect or having to start over.
I wondered how I could give my stories more layering.
One way, I thought, was to write a large back-story, most of which I wouldn’t use. Since I usually write from one moment to the next, developing the story and the characters along the way, I felt that diving too much into back-story before writing the first paragraph would take away a lot of the fun.
While pondering Deafheaven’s songs, I thought a more fitting technique for me would be to build my stories as a musician records a song. Throw down the drums, bass, and some guitars on a demo and the song takes shape. Just as writing a complete story on the first draft allows me to have something to work with.
Now it’s time to take the demo into the studio. I focus on a question or an aspect of the story I feel is weak and revise only with that in mind.
What brought these characters to this place in time? Why is she breaking up with him? Is this setting appropriate? Where should this metaphor recur? Like musicians concentrate on one layer or instrument in the song as they record, develop these layers one at a time, making them as full and rewarding as possible. Build one off of another and make them compliment each other. This way I will have a piece that is balanced, and every part has been given it’s proper attention. As opposed to having parts that sing over the weaker ones, it keeps the reader from noticing them in the background.
This technique allows me to keep my spontaneity while writing, but will hopefully add more depth to my stories. So when I’m finished (if there is such a thing), it has been layered so much that, just like a “headphone record,” it will be full of meaning and worthy of a reread.