Writer’s Music: Richard Tognetti

246828b86b597eace58e331ffce41e4aSome stories cannot be told with crashing-techno, happy pop, or lonely piano. Some stories call for the drums of battle.

And strings. Lots of kick-ass strings.

Such is Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World as composed by Richard Tognetti. I can’t think of any other film where the story, character, and score entwine so completely. Normally I don’t bother with movie trivia, but I have to note that Richard Tognetti not only composed the score, but he performed as the violin solist and tutored Russel Crowe when it came to playing the violin.

Why did Russel Crowe need tutoring? Because his character, the captain of the HMS Surprise, is also a violinist. His best friend is the naval surgeon and a cellist. In the quiet moments at sea, these two play duets of such sweet sways you can feel the ocean rock the boards beneath your feet. These are but classical duets, however. The moments of battle between ships lets loose the drums and brass as cannons between the bows. “The Far Side of the World,” the opening track on this score, captures the rise and fall of battle in the fog as well as the celebration of friendship. Violins and cellos both sing and echo the melody to one another; all the while the song builds with a light intensity. What friendship doesn’t go through its moments of tension to come out all the stronger for it? Just so as the captain and surgeon work together to save ship and crew.

Unleash your characters to the drums of battle, and see what they discover in the fog.

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Writer’s Music: Hans Zimmer II

81hlcdsuknl-_sl1500_Showdowns are, I find, one of the most necessary elements of story, as well as one of the trickiest. Actions are a blur, emotions and motivations impossible to explain, don’t let it go too long or the pacing drags, don’t let it go too short or you’re better off not bothering at all, the setting’s impacted so you better talk about that, and what about the OTHER characters outside the showdown you can’t forget them and ARGH.

Oh, and it’s not like you can only have ONE showdown.

Music is a savior here, one which I’ll happily share over the next few “Writer’s Music” posts. Every showdown must be unique: there is no one quite like your protagonist in this moment, for he/she is either a) barely understanding the world right now, b) still learning his/her abilities, or c) ready, impassioned. These moments of growth influence the showdown, so the music should reflect that.

Your antagonist may be on a similar arc, or not. Some prefer the antagonist to be impossibly powerful so the final showdown and defeat is all the more satisfying, but I think it’s interesting to watch the antagonist grow, too. Any earlier interaction with the protagonist should affect the antagonist, and make him/her more intelligent, wary, etc.

Hans Zimmer’s “Air” is a favorite showdown track for me because, being a longer track, it does allow the characters to think and feel. To realize. Such moments are important, I think, when the protagonist doesn’t really get what’s going on; therefore, those breaths in the action help ground the reader, too.

I am also a sucker for ominous choirs, which Zimmer uses in abundance here. Strings carry the main weight of melody here, but when it’s time for the true tension to arise, percussion and choir overwhelm; you can feel the physical battle here. The eerie soft moments in the choir’s absence only add more to the tension—a moment of dialogue here, perhaps? Or perhaps a moment to run and hide? Give your characters “Air” and see what they do.

Click here for more on Hans Zimmer.

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