Be like Beethoven


Here’s how Beethoven can influence your writing.

Stories have been and forever will be manipulated in structure for a taste of originality. The basic beginning – middle – end formula has been expanded upon, rearranged, reversed and altered countless times. They’re the basic blocks of story telling and they’re all necessary for a well developed piece to entice the consumer.

Similarly, classic symphonies are often composed of three or four movements. For example, it may look like this:

Allegro – Adagio or AndanteMenuetto or ScherzoFinale: Presto or Finale:Allegro.

Like a story, these can change for impact and gesture but all are generally considered needed for a complete piece.

While the structure is played around with and is most likely different for any piece of music or fiction, the duration of these pieces is equally important and shouldn’t be left untouched.

This is when Beethoven comes in. In his first and second symphonies, he stuck to the rules, more or less. A gentle introduction to grab your attention, to entice you into the piece, to let you hear what he had put together for your enjoyment. What followed were lengthy sections of melodies for each mood of the palate. However, in the third symphony, he did something different. He kept the structure but what he modified was the duration. Note the introduction…

That’s it. It’s two notes, two sounds that rush you into the melody of the exposition. He doesn’t just grab your attention, he takes it. At the time, this broke the rules but what’s important is the maverick decision worked. This reflected his ambition to stand out and now he’s globally recognised, for your attention has been caught and now you’re listening.

Writing needs to do this. In the same way people came to dance to the melodies of Beethoven, people pick up a book or watch a film for the story. They read the blurb or watch the trailer and think that that’s what they want to see. The details given in an introduction, most of the time, can be left out and will be told naturally by the rest of the story.

It’s the classic example of show, don’t tell. You don’t have to tell us about how little Timmy grew up to be a strong, brave boy who was emotionally crushed when his father died in the boating race he initially protested against. Show us in his reaction, show us in his interaction with others, show us in the substance of the moment.

Like Beethoven showing off his talent, he just got to the music. No faff, no fluff, no waffling. Be like Beethoven.