While catching up on newspaper reading, I ran across an article about movie soundtracks and how uneven they can be. The article’s author offered praise for some for adding atmosphere, while opining that the soundtrack took away from other movies.
But what about books? Do song lyrics offer atmosphere, or add to characterization?
In my opinion, song lyrics are more problematic than they’re worth, even when you observe copyright rules so you don’t have to pay a usage fee. Here’s why:
Let’s say you ask the reader to think about lyrics, sung to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat:
Now I have to think about that song’s tune.
I’ve stopped the story much to my reading rhythm’s ruin.
The reader has been taken out of the story, and for what?
An audience watching a movie doesn’t have to think about a background song. It just seems to happen. But forcing readers to recall a song, even one as familiar as Amazing Grace, stops their reading beat.
If your characters sing, perhaps, “After the hymn sing, Joseph and Miriam ventured to the ice cream parlor.”
I feel the same about mentioning books. I remember reading a story where the author noted a current Christian author and book by name. While a nice gesture, I didn’t think it added to the story and caused me to pause to think about another author. It also felt like product placement. I have a similar view of mentioning a classic. If a character is reading Bleak House, I’m thinking I should be spending time with classics. Maybe I should ditch the book in hand for a Dickens tome.
If your character is a reader, note, “Amanda shut her textbook/Bible/novel to focus on the task at hand.”
As you read my blog post, did my mentions of other works cause your mind to wander? If so, perhaps you see what I mean.
Do you like to see song lyrics in books?
What is the best use of lyrics you’ve seen in a book? The worst?
Do you like movie soundtracks?