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I am at the free-writing stages of writing my high fantasy novel. I am looking at or experimenting with different methods for hooking the reader and driving their attention towards the rest of my story. I am currently considering the idea using a song as the hook. What can I do as far as formatting goes to make sure that the song is read as a song and that the reader will at least consider being bothered enough to read the song lyrics before continuing on with the rest of the story?

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You don't have to start the story directly with the song.

Establish a proper setting first where you create a scene with someone who is singing your song.

You can make the song stand out with extra indentation and text formatting (italics for example).

After that you can always introduce the reader to the rest of the story.

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    Agree. Songs just don't work so well in books because there is no way to transport the tune and style, not even the rhythm. You'll be basically left with a poem rather than a song. So to give it more meaning, I'd try and build it into the story as recommended here. It may also be worthwhile to give the song real content, i.e. make it a mini story of its own that grips the reader so he wants to know the conclusion. – Florian Aug 21 '18 at 14:03
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    I want to pick out something Florian mentioned -- that you can't really put a song in a book (at least, not an audiobook). It's probably better to write it as a poem meant to be read than a song meant to be sung, because the two have different characteristics. For example, when singing, you can control the beat by just... singing it to that beat, and the meter is whatever you make it when you sing. When read, though, the reader determines both, so you need to be much more careful to pick words which have a single meter, etc. to keep it sounding good. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Aug 21 '18 at 18:21
  • I concur that it is hard. But just because it is difficult or complex, it doesn't mean it cannot be done. – Totumus Maximus Aug 22 '18 at 7:18
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For some reason, when I read this question, my thoughts were immediately drawn to the book The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. At one point in the classic science fiction story, the protagonist is introduced to a song's lyrics. The passage is quoted on a website with the same name as the song, Tenser, Said the Tensor:

Her fingers and palm slipped gracefully over the panel. A tune of utter monotony filled the room with agonizing, unforgettable banality. It was the quintessence of every melodic cliché Reich had ever heard. No matter what melody you tried to remember, it invariably led down the path of familiarity to "Tenser, Said The Tensor." Then Duffy began to sing:

      Eight, sir; seven, sir;
      Six, sir; five, sir;
      Four, sir; three, sir;
      Two, sir; one!
      Tenser, said the Tensor.
      Tenser, said the Tensor.
      Tension, apprehension,
      And dissension have begun.

"Oh my God!" Reich exclaimed.

Of course, different people have different tastes. But what makes this effective is not only how absurd it is—but that it's short and simple.

Speaking only personally, I more often than not find reading song lyrics more of a distraction than not, and will simply skip past them if they are extensive.

But sometimes, as in the case of this song, it has content that is either unusual enough or interesting enough that it doesn't just seem like "filler" to me.

So, I would suggest making the content of the song memorable, immediately relevant to the story itself in some way (if you can), and not necessarily have the lyrics go on for very long. For instance, you can describe the song as being lengthy and captivating, but still only provide part of it to the reader. (Although if you are particularly attached to the lyrics of the entire song, you could always provide it in full in an appendix.)

  • A fine example. I think too the song should have meaning to some part of the story. – Totumus Maximus Aug 21 '18 at 13:08
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As a reader I find reading songs (I'm thinking of Tolkien here) in multiple verses something I very much avoid or skip in a book. More effective to me is the dropping of single lines from the lyric into the main text. e.g. the character hears a snatch of song "". Only when the reader is fully interested is it worth putting the complete lyric down in one place. What I've found most effective as a reader when an author wishes to convey something important in the lyrics of a song - is to describe the song, it's melody, the performance etc. but only quote the relevant lines interwoven with the description. Writing good lyrics is hard enough, when there's no melody or rhythym to go with them - most written down songs in books are terrible (and I do include Tolkien here).

  • Absolutly this. Another compounding Issue is translation. Most of the books I read are translated from english, and songs are the first thing that get butchered. Either they lose a subtle meaning they had, or they keep the meaning but read very poorly. This makes me really uninterested in them, and I feel frustrated that I might miss something. – Lichtbringer Aug 23 '18 at 3:53
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Rather than formatting as a method to distinguish your prose from your verse, why not work the distinction into the greater structure of your story...

Have your narrators be a pair of scribes, one a story teller and the other a bard. Have the story teller recounting the tale of your main characters so that the bard can craft them into the lyrics of a ballad. At the end of each chapter, have the narrator pause and let the bard recant the events of that chapter in rhythmic, rhyming, poetic verse.

That way, your lyrics become something the reader can look forward to. If they choose to skip reading them (as some less word-hungry readers will) that doesn't diminish the story which is whole and complete in your story teller scribe's prose.

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I think this is a bad idea. I agree that you will be left with a poem, NOT a song, and if that is the case, open with a rhyming poem that reads like a poem and promises the reader something about the story. (The hook).

That might work.

I do use song in my stories, once or twice per story, but it is always in dialogue: Somebody trying to remind somebody else of a song, or quoting lyrics, or correcting somebody else's singing or quoting of lyrics. You cannot convey music in prose. Even if you wrote sheet music, very few could read that and mentally hear a tune. You can convey how it makes people feel, but I am convinced it will fall flat as music.

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