Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Music of Language: A Writer Needs to Understand the Innate Human Joy in Prosody

"It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception." (When asked about his theory of relativity) - Albert Einstein

"Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art." - Charlie "YardBird" Parker

"There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another." -Frank Zappa

I'm a former speech-language pathologist who dealt with children who had great difficulty learning the subtleties of language, something most of us do effortlessly by the time we are four years old. In my practice, I quickly realized that it was the music of language many of them were missing, that sense. That is, the feel for the rhythms and intonations--the prosody--of speech on which the real intent, the meaning of the strings of words is carried.

What is true for spoken language is true for the written word. The world's great literature is a great song that carries on the rhythms of its syllables the profound emotional messages of the ages. We writers need to remember that.

One of my favorite stories is The Bear, by William Faulkner. In the opening pages of this great, long short story--or novella--Faulkner sets a magical beat of words that carries the narrative forward into haunted emotional territory. You can feel the rawness of the air, smell the woodsmoke, taste the whisky, hear the horses hooves on the earth as the men's voices quietly penetrate the silence of the deep forest. Most of all, these mental pictures wrapped in the music of the writing set the stage for the eventual appearance of the bear itself, the huge, forbidding, wild spirit of the wilderness. It's great and wonderful stuff.

So, I was not surprised to read this from NPR's Blog of the Nation:

Science now all but confirms what many suspected for decades — humans are hard-wired, to some degree, to respond to music. In recent years, new technology and research provided scientific evidence that music affects our brains and moods. Studies suggest that someday music may even help patients heal from Parkinson's or stroke. In her new book, [The Power of Music], Elena Mannes tackles many questions about the science of music: How do different sounds affect different groups of people? What parts of the brain are activated by music? What role can music play in therapy and health care?

Of course, we all knew that and the lesson for us scribblers is that we are really singers, songsters whose message is best communicated by rhythms that touch that "hard-wired" human capacity to respond to the music of our sentences.

1 comment:

  1. Interestly enough, I often (too often probably) find my mind has the habit of "popping up" on its screen the tune or title or line of a song as I am oonversing with people. They'd think me insane possibly if I spoke every song I "heard" as we exchange banter!!!! (and I thought I was the only one!!) Ah, it's great to be so soulfully connected to all others, huh? Even if we don't admit it!