#writing #music: Alan Silvestri II… Silvestri Harder.

As 2018’s National Novel Writing Month draws to a close, I thought I’d offer a little music to help those entangled in face-offs and final battles. We all could use a little muscle to pull us out and onward.

What better muscles can I give you than these?

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Alan Silvestri’s music defined adventure during my childhood: Back to the Future, Flight of the Navigator, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit come to mind. This powerhouse of a composer knows how to carry audiences off into the air with heroic brass and whimsical strings.

I know: you’re not here to start an adventure. You’re here because it’s time for you–and the characters of your story–to kick some villainous butt.

So let’s join up with the best of the best, the men of muscle who fly across the border and walk into a guerrilla nest without flinching. Men who chew cigars, sweat through camo paint, and say lines like “I ain’t got time to bleed” and sound tooootally bad-ass.

Predator isn’t a scifi-action classic purely because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance, or only because of Stan Winston’s monster creation. Silvestri’s score plays a HUGE role in this story’s atmosphere, too.

Arnie’s military group is sent on what they think is a rescue mission deep in central America–until they find men of a previous “rescue mission” skinned and hanging from a tree. We see no evil, but we see its horror. Silvestri gives only a single, drum-like percussion, far off. An alien’s heartbeat, an echo of another nature. It’s never completely gone; rather, it hides in the rest of the orchestra’s bursts of harmony in the brass, strings, and percussion. The music sweeps up, sweeps down, all stealth and caution….until the two minute mark. The low brass of epiphany emphasizes the characters’ realization the situation is not what they presupposed.

Silvestri nails suspense with a moment when Arnold’s crew sets a trap for whatever’s killing them. The strings remain high, tight. No aggression in these first few moments, only fear–though no one wants to admit it. The combination of high strings and oppressive jungle makes characters and audience alike ready to snap under the pressure to wait. This moment often helps me add extra setting details to make the characters look hard for the villain as they wait for  the trap to be sprung. And you’ll know when the villain comes, all brass and drums.

Silvestri and violins, man…he just knows how to set them running up and down in arpeggios to quicken the heartbeat. With opening in a dissonance, we put our survival instincts into a panic. We run with the strings, and the moment they stop we skid to a halt. The brass and piano takes up the chase, hunting us, hunting the characters, both.

And climax? Ye GODS, Silvestri knows his pacing. The first minute is almost sweetly mysterious with the strings as we think we’ve won against the fantastic thing, this hunter. We can stand over it victorious as its strange insides are exposed to us…until the brass and piano begin. They begin a steady build, add the percussion, build. Then the strings start to run and you know you’ve got to get the hell out of there before evil steals your victory in death.

We all want our heroes to win the day, but we don’t want it to be easy for them–there’s no story without conflict. We gotta make our heroes scared. It takes some serious fear to make the final victory all the sweeter for characters and readers alike.

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Your input could also be a huge help for my next batch of Tales of the River Vine. I can’t decide who to write about next! Do you have a favorite character from Tales or Fallen Princeborn: Stolen that you feel needs some extra page time? Please let me know in the comments below.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

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37 thoughts on “#writing #music: Alan Silvestri II… Silvestri Harder.

  1. Great timing, Jean, tomorrow I’m playing in the first of two orchestral concerts of film music which includes, among much else … Silvestri’s Back to the Future!

    A masterly analysis: I do like a piece from someone who knows their harp from their harpsichord, their timpani from their tubular bells, and their glissando from their glockenspiel. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh man. Back to the Future is one of THE great themes of the 20th century. I still can’t fathom just how much Silvestri has composed since the 70s, with many films coming out in the same year! Sure, not all scores are amazing, but he definitely has more hits than misses. 🙂
      Aw, shucks, thank you! I wish I could find out what drum he used for the Predator’s theme. It sounds like a muted steel drum, but I can’t be sure…

      Liked by 2 people

    • They really don’t. Bo and I had a long talk about this, too, and how no other sequel utilized a crucial element: super-men. That may sound stupid, but if you think about it, all Predator sequels have these every-day looking people in them, people you feel you the viewer could be. But who in brewin’ blazes things they could build muscles up like Arnold? No one. We look at super-men like him and think, “nothing can scare him.” But this something, the Predator, DOES. And that creeps US the f*** out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My younger girl who is in her 30’s, said to me the other night, we are watching things mainly from the 90s, film were so good then. And you know I think she’s right. I am a huge movie fan and a huge movie buff but I hardly go to the cinema these days. I feel there are no film stars any more. I mean we kind of took the proverbial out of Arnie at the time but he was a star. He totally delivered, whether it was action or comedy. And he was but one of many, a long tradition of stars going right back to the golden age of Hollywood. I am sorry but who is there now you would look twice and, male or female and think STAR?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know I can’t think of anyone. Bo and I were talking about Arnie, too, and how many hits he packed into the late 80s-mid90s. Like you said, he consistently delivered. I don’t think any “star” these days carries that kind of promise.

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    • Oh you’re BOUND to know his music from something–I didn’t realize just how steady his output’s been over the last forty years. I didn’t even connect his name to these movies until Bo pointed it out while I scrounged his CDs for the Predator Soundtrack. “You know he did Back to the Future, right?” Me: WHAAAAAA?
      So yeah. Now worries. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Weeeell NaNo was kind of a bust, BUT I’ve been working on an outline for the rest of the series, so that’s been productive, at least.

      Oh Silvestri’s such a treat. You rarely go wrong with his scores. 🙂

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  2. Gosh I am breathing in the rhythm of the score 🙂 The era of a good movie has ended in 1999. I know, the special effects are state of the art these days, but the acting doesn’t impress, and all the characters look so 3D printed, genderless, using the same vocabulary etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, exactly that! The practical effects are priceless in movies like this. John Carpenter’s THE THING is still the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s held up because of its practical effects. THE PREDATOR is also classic because it’s a good story: the villain’s reveal is paced brilliantly, the heroes earn their knowledge and ability to fight back. It’s an excellent adventure/scifi film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, exactly, the heroes EARN 🙂 The original Predator was created by and for people who live in a real world. The 21th century adventure movies are created for those who spend most of their time in the virtual world. These movies are spectacular, but I do miss a story that catches my breath because I forget it is just a movie 🙂
        I went to see the new Beautiful Beasts on the day of the storm Diana. I was alone in the cinema! Just imagine if I were watching the Predator. Wouldn’t get out alive 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Reading this reminded me of my mum listening to Johnny Cash and one song in particular- If You Could Read My Mind. The lines something like “The hero would be me. The heroes often fail. And you won’t read that book again”. Don’t know why always sends a shiver down my spine. In real life sometimes heroes fail and maybe in films it should be the same.

    We haven’t read the whole book yet so this might all change but Liam and Anna.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Heroic and whimsical, I like that, and the clips you picked did exactly what you said they would. I remember Roger Rabbit, and Back to the Future, but I’ve never watched predator, but I might have to now – darn it. Looks like my Christmas just got a little busier.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: #Lessons Learned from #RaphaelMontes: #Writers Don’t Need to #Write a Spectacle to Have a Spectacular Ending. | Jean Lee's World

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