Can musical form be borrowed for novels?

I'm highly autistic and wondering if it is possible or worthwhile to apply concepts from Musical form to writing novels and stories? For example, understanding where and when to use a variation of A (A'), i.e. ABA'CA'BA
Starting this thread one last time to see if there's any interest.

An anon's post:

I've thought about this and I'm sure many other people have too. There are definitely some parallels.

Example 1: Theme & variations. In music the overall feeling with this form is a lack of movement. You stay where you are and contemplate; it's like turning something about to see it from different angles. This sort of corresponds to the episodic or slice-of-life story in literature. Nothing changes; you see the same bunch of characters being themselves in different situations.

Suppose you took Bach's Goldberg Variations and swapped the variations around a bit. It wouldn't destroy the overall work, or even change the feel of it all that much. (Bach actually wrote it with that idea in mind. He thought the guy could just pick a few variations at random and play them each evening.) Now imagine you changed the order of the chapters in Lake Woebegon Days. It wouldn't have a huge effect.

Example 2: Rondo. Rondo is a balance between novelty and repetition. ABACADAEA etc. One idea keeps getting repeated and it's contrasted with a bunch of constantly changing new ideas. You could say the literary equivalent would be where one character meets a bunch of different characters once each. This would be pretty similar to the a story like Don Quixote. [Actually DQ has two main characters who play off each other and keep meeting new side characters who only appear once each. That's more like the Double Rondo, which Beethoven liked, where basically you have a Rondo but with two repeated subjects, so A B A C A B A D A B A or something like that.]

That said, trying to echo a musical structure in a book probably won't work that well. What is important in one medium is usually less important in other medium and won't have the same emotional effect.

  1. 3 weeks ago

    If I understand you correctly, you try to emulate musical "sentences" in a written form?

    That's not what Virgil, for exemple, used as a form of writing in his Bucolics?

    IIRC antiques forms of litterature were written to sound a certain way, in Latin, at least. I don't know about Greek.

    • 3 weeks ago

      not op but less like sentences and more like arcs/scenes. a sentence would just be a melody or a measure

    • 3 weeks ago

      yeah not sentences more like parts or chapters at the least

  2. 3 weeks ago

    >worthwhile to apply concepts from Musical form to writing novels and stories?


    epic poetry was basically that, it helped people remembering

  3. 3 weeks ago


    Now write something that uses those ideas.

  4. 3 weeks ago

    The same sorts of structures used in music are used all over literature, but you can not view them so literally, and the same goes for music since often when you return to A it is different in some way just with the same underpinnings, the melody or harmony maybe the same but now the trumpets and violins have switched places, context changes but it is still A

    >something happens to protagonist
    >protagonist copes
    >something happens to protagonist
    >protagonist learns but still copes
    >something happens to protagonist
    >protagonist figures it out and grows, no more cope.
    >something happens to protagonist, no big deal.

    Spend some time analyzing structure, you will see the parallels everywhere. This is not to say that it all comes from music, just that such patterns work well to get a point across regardless if you are working in music or literature.

  5. 3 weeks ago

    The Quran has a great ABCBA structure, it’s called ring composition. But the Quran is a versed book and in a way it is sang, so musical elements might play a more powerful role. Literature stems from songs in the first place, a musically inspired structure would have a lovely effect subliminally and analytically on the readers.

    • 3 weeks ago

      I remember Bartok used a form like this a lot in his quartets. ABCBA or ABCDCBA. It gives the feeling of going out somewhere and then coming home again. I'm a bit surprised it's not more common because it feels quite satisfying. I'm sure you can find older composers using it, admittedly. Everything's been done before.

      It's called "arch form" apparently:

      This is maybe the main big difference between music and literature. In music, more often than not, you end with the same theme as you began. In literature not so much (or not so explicitly. Joubert said "The end of a book should always call to mind its beginning" & other people have said the end of a book should have a definite connection to the beginning.)

  6. 3 weeks ago

    quick bump, bumpbros help out

  7. 3 weeks ago
    I hate women

    in poetry, yes. basically just make the A sections have the same rhyme scheme/meter and B sections have the same rhyme scheme/meter and so on. You can completely copy a previous section and use it again if the sections between it give more context that changes the way the copied section is viewed.

    • 3 weeks ago

      Yeah, poetry is closest to music, of course. Especially the old poetic forms.

      The villanelle is just like the Beethoven sonata-rondo — two themes repeating, contrasted with episodes which appear once only (like verse chorus verse chorus etc in a song):


      The sting of bees took away my father
      who walked in a swarming shroud of wings
      and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

      Lightning licked in a yellow lather
      but missed the mark with snaking fangs:
      the sting of bees took away my father.

      Trouncing the sea like a raging bather,
      he rode the flood in a pride of prongs
      and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

      A scowl of sun struck down my mother,
      tolling her grave with golden gongs,
      but the sting of bees took away my father.

      He counted the guns of god a bother,
      laughed at the ambush of angels' tongues,
      and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

      O ransack the four winds and find another
      man who can mangle the grin of kings:
      the sting of bees took away my father
      who scorned the tick of the falling weather.

      — Sylvia Plath

  8. 3 weeks ago

    Read Satantango

    • 3 weeks ago

      i was gonna say this but i have the feeling it's just a larp. tangolarping.

  9. 3 weeks ago

    Sure you could. Joyce is a great example of this.

  10. 3 weeks ago

    Sure and in more ways than you might have originally meant. "Sure" has an emotional resonance (affirmative positive) "and" (emphatic) "more ways" (emphatic increase) "than" (ambiguous connector) "you" (personal indicative) "might" ( cautious pausitive) "originally" (emphatic specificative) "meant" (generic abstract, redirective to "you"). All of these meanings could be translated to musical tonalities that mirror grossi modo the resonance of each quoted word in the mind.

  11. 3 weeks ago

    quick bump

  12. 3 weeks ago

    there are cool bits in godel escher and bach that replicate the various shenanigans of a musical offering
    there is a cool bit in ulysses that is kind of a fugue in literature form

  13. 3 weeks ago

    last (maybe) bump

  14. 3 weeks ago

    last bump mayhaps

  15. 3 weeks ago

    It's called Pentameter.
    × / × / × / × / × /
    When I do count the clock that tells the time

    × / × / × / × / × /
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

  16. 3 weeks ago

    final bump

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