On writing pianissimo

When one learns a musical instrument, there’s a beginner’s mistake regarding the loudness of the sound and the quality of the sound. For wind instruments — remember, I’m a clarinetist — how loud your sound is is just how fast the air is going over your mouthpiece. The faster the airflow, the louder the sound.

The mistake everyone makes is that changing the airflow means changing how much you blow. The real answer is you change how you blow. You keep the same supported air supply, you just release it slower. Slower is softer. All this time that you’re trying to carefully let out the air is time that you’re not breathing & oxygenating yourself, meanwhile, you’re using more muscles to control the air rather than letting it all go free. Ergo, softer sound is harder to do.

Speaking-volume” is mezzo-forte (mf) in the musical world.

OK, technically, “speaking volume” is between mezzo-piano & mezzo-forte. At least, I was taught mf is speaking volume. In today’s generation of people talking over each other and each other’s cell phones, “speaking volume” is probably now forte (f), which is loosely translated to “loudly” when it’s a musical term.

My point is, mezzo-forte always gets taught as speaking volume; my band teacher would tell us to use our “mezzo-forte” voices when we got too rowdy in the acoustically awesome band room. “Softly” is piano (p) and “moderately softly” is mezzo-piano (mp). You can have more extreme degrees of softness and loudness by adding more p’s or more f’s. Pianissimo (“very softly”) is pp; fortissimo (“very loudly”) is ff. I don’t remember seeing a ppp (do they call it “pretty pianissimo“?) except in the really old it-was-orchestral-but-here’s-a-rearrangement-to-a-grade-5-band piece, but fff is what most musicians call it “fucking fortissimo” in jest.

It’s really called fortondoando or fortissimo possibile (“loudest possible”), by the way, for fff. And ppp is pianissimo possibile, or “as soft as possible.”

Everyone can play fortissimo, from beginners to masters. You could go as far to say everyone can play fucking fortissimo, but you could also argue that once you get into that particular extreme of volume capability, the quality of the sound deteriorates in favor of a sound that’s closer to screaming or yelling hoarsely. Which isn’t pleasant.

It’s hard to play pianissimo.

So it’s not really the mark of an awesome band to play loudly while being balanced with each other (treble not overpowering the bass & vice versa) and in tune (awesome pitch-wise) and having a solid, supported sound (don’t sound wispy). An awesome band can be in tune and balanced with each other and have a solid sound while playing very softly, because playing very softly is hard.

If you imagine these musical volume degrees lining up with word counts in writing…it comes out to relatively the same degrees of difficulty, I’ve found.

On my own personal blog, on Fel Concentration, I can be as verbose as I want to. My first drafts of Really Awesome Posts TM are often over 3000 words, and I’m a putter-inner editor rather than a taker-outer editor when it comes to word counts. That is, when I rewrite, I usually end up with more rather than with less.

WoW Insider, on the other hand, likes its column articles to be 1000-1500 words. Going over requires them to pay you more, and going over quite often will screw with their budget (which is a dick thing to do). So I have to stick between a range that was often 25-50% of what I normally put out.

It’s super easy to blab on and on and on and on and on and on and have all this needless fluff and tangents and junk in my posts on whatever feature of warlockery. It’s actually pretty hard for me to write pianissimo and not have all my literal sound start falling apart or sound fluffy and weak.

WoW Insider is professional writing, whether or not you want to laugh about a computer game fansite being “professional anything.” No, I’m not rocking my piggy bank like Stephen King with the money I earn writing about Metamorphosis. But it’s still quite a step up from what I was doing, which was largely writing for myself.

For once, outside of school, I’m on a weekly deadline, and I’ve already started to fall apart at it (been late once!) and had to reorganize my schedule to put in some goddamned “WRITING” time. That is, not the “Oh, I really should write, but really I can play WoW and write this up at 2am” that I had before. Nope, I now have honest-to-Elune writing blocks carved out. (Crack-of-dawn, I’ve found, I do better. Specifically waking up to crack-of-dawn, rather than staying awake to crack-of-dawn. I have no clue why writing directly after the get-up-go-pee morning routine does well, but I get some fantastic snippets out of that time.)

For once, it’s not school, which means I’m allowed to ask people for fucking help if I need it. I’m not limited to the library (Wowhead) and my own homework scribblings (forums). I’m slowly learning that I should not be as much an information prude as I have been and I should really let go a little more of my pride and ask for help. As the smart kid who “never needed nobody” outside Google and her textbook, that’s a hard habit to break, honestly.

And when it gets right down to the writing bits, WoW Insider is an awesome crash course in how to sculpt my written sound whenever I go to put my fingers on my prose-keyboard and play a piece. There’s scope: I need to address all warlocks, not just my monogamous love affair with affliction.

There’s formatting and language: I can’t play with colors, but I need images to break up my critical textwalls instead. “Fuck” is not allowed at all, whether describing a really bad or really good idea. I have to actually type things out on WI. I’ve found that it’s so much easier to talk about Metamorphosis when I call it “Meta” everywhere, but when I try to read through with five bazillion “Metamorphosis”es in a paragraph, it feels so heavy and “blarrrrrgh” and cumbersome, holy fel.

And, of course, there’s volume: I can play fortissimo with busting pride, y’all. I can hit fucking fortissimo a few times, but I can’t stay up there for long with great quality of sound like Cynwise can. But when we turn the volume down to softly, I’m a consistent mezzo-piano at best. At best, I’m hitting just under 2k on my first tries of Blood Pact drafts. I struggle with hitting those awesome sentence-snippets of English and still get my point across solidly. I still need that little forte-piano (fp) effect to work my way down the word count. (fp = hit the note loudly then sharply drop off to soft volume)

So no, to answer some comments I’ve had, my WoW Insider articles aren’t like my blog posts. They’re not alike, and, the point I don’t think most people realize, they’re not meant to be alike. One’s louder, one’s softer.

The difference is I’m not the virtuosa that most naysayers think I should be. I’m still learning how to play solidly and softly.

…By the way, this post was one first-draft. 1218 words. 🙂

On writing pianissimo

5 thoughts on “On writing pianissimo

  1. I loved this post. Brilliant. It takes time to develop at WoW Insider, I think the demands take people by surprise, but the blog is all the better for challenging it’s writers.

  2. “I’m slowly learning that I should not be as much an information prude as I have been and I should really let go a little more of my pride and ask for help.”

    This is something I’m learning, as well. I’ve found Twitter can be a great help for fact checking, but also for recruiting people to do test reads and float ideas.

    I think you’ve been doing a great job balancing out the needs of Blood Pact with your own writing needs. It’s hard to ignore people and just write, but you’re doing well. Learning how to write pianissimo takes time and practice, just like playing it.

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