Blank sheet. Reader clearly defined. Knows nothing about what I’m going to write. Is ready to stop the moment I say something that she —no, he — cannot understand.
My goal is to start with something familiar. Like sports. Then to go a bit deeper, to sing, he and I, reader and writer. And then to introduce a third person. When it all ends, she’ll be in bed while he continues to play some stupid game that has something to do with lifting things.
If that interests you, please read on.
Every game has rules. Otherwise, how do you play? Imagine a game with no rules. You pick up an object from the street, anything. Another person does the same. What’s the game? Whoever drops it first, wins. Or whichever object is bigger, or heavier, wins.
We can invent the game as we go along. I do something, you do something, and eventually we come up with a challenge to decide who wins and who loses.
The sheet is no longer blank. The reader is less defined. And I’ve soiled the project with this game digression. But I need to keep going.
Let’s see if every game needs a winner and a loser. If we change the above scenario, the one where two people pick things up and decide who wins and loses; if we remove the competition and we replace it with an activity that starts with no rules; for example, he does something and continues to do something while she does something else in parallel, or she does nothing but waits for a signal, or walks away and starts watching television; but whatever she decides to do, he doesn’t stop, he keeps lifting objects until finally she looks over and says “What are you doing”? This is the start of the game.
Writing is about building something together. Win or lose. Build, alone or together. Create a problem, a mystery, a relationship; resolve it. These are all games people play. What game, then, do I want to tell my reader about? I started out with sports — so let’s say the field is wide open but there’s no goal.
Does winning and losing help me tell the story? Does building, or mystery-solving, or even tongue-twisting add to my story?
Well it depends on what game I want to play with my reader. I’ll choose one that I know well. The game of music. The musical scale. My goal in this game, this story, is to teach you something about music.
A scale has 8 notes or 12 notes or “5 à 7” (as they say in French). A scale can also have as many notes as there are tones on an instrument. Or it can simply be described as any sequential series of notes played together. But let’s not complicate the subject before getting started. Let’s start with the most obvious scale, the Major C, the do. Seven notes.
Sing the familiar upward melody of the C-scale: do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do. Play a game with them, where each note is a player: do is a player, re is a player, as are mi and fa and la and si. Seven players.
So who wins? What’s the game? The game is music-making. You need to write a song. The rule is to use only the Major C-scale—the one in the middle of the piano that’s played entirely with the white keys. The do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do sequence.
Hands down, do is the winner. Of course. It all begins with do, it’s the root of the whole scale. The game, the whole tonal sound, begins and ends with the sound do. Try it out. Sing it. You can’t start a do scale at la, for example, without shifting into another scale, a more somber version of the do. So do wins.
But who comes in second? I’ll save you the time. In second place we have sol, and in third, mi. The top three notes of any scale are always in the first, fifth, and third positions. These three notes (do-mi-sol) form a triad. A triad forms the basis of all western classical and popular music. Sing them. You’ll hear completeness, perfect harmony, no dissonance. Not a song yet — thank god! — because we need tension.
In our game, in music, everyone wins, everyone goes home with something. si is a winner if we want something romantic, fireside. la beats si for its melancholic and contemplative mood. Good jazz comes out of re. And let’s not forget fa for its rock-n-roll. At this point, the race is on, and si, highly competitive, skips the romance and cheats, slightly bending itself, transforming our song into some kind of blue.
This is where the descent begins. We reverse the order of the winners, we put do-mi-sol behind us and put our hopes on any note that transforms us into the kind of song we want to sing.
That’s the game, music, he says, continuing to lift things and drop them while she’s already asleep. She’s no gamer, she couldn’t stay awake to make sense of it all.
It started with a blank sheet and a potential reader. Now both of these are no longer the case — the sheets are soiled and the reader has long gone. One thing led to another. Seduced. Abandoned. A romantic touch, a bit of jazz, a melancholic mood.