Have you ever heard of a symphonic poem? In layperson’s terms, it’s a movement of music that’s been composed with a specific story, place, or character in mind. The instruments chosen for that movement and the way they are arranged are used to evoke specific images for the listener. Because they are so evocative, symphonic poems are highly inspirational to write to–especially when creating works of fantasy. Choose one of these masterpieces and let the images lead you further into your story.
Here’s a list (though far from a definitive one) of some of the more popular Symphonic Poems. If you have any favorites, please add them to the list!
- Má Vlast by Smetana (a set of six symphonic poems in which The Moldau is the most popular)
- Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun” by Debussy
- Many works by Dvorak including: The Golden Spinning Wheel, The Noon Witch, The Water Goblin, The Wood Dove, and The Hero’s Song
- An American in Paris by Gershwin
- Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas
- Just about anything by Franz Liszt (the father of the Symphonic Poem, he wrote twelve of them)
- The Roman Trilogy by Respighi
- Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a popular picture book from legendary creator Chris Van Allsburg, in which the author claims a series of drawings were mysteriously left to his friend by a stranger named Harris Burdick. Containing only titles for each drawing and a brief caption, the reader is left to determine the actual story behind the picture. For twenty-six years The Mysteries of Harris Burdick has served as ample fodder for any sufferer of writer’s block. Choose a picture and write a brief story. You may find a copy of the book at most libraries, or view a few of the pictures here.
Imagine that your main character is blind. Touch becomes an enchanced sense. The way your character now gathers data is through their hands. What does your character learn about their surrounding world by touching furniture, the floors, the walls, the people around him/her, the food, etc. What kinds of textures would they come to value or dislike?
TASTE & SMELL:
There is an amazing condition out there called synesthesia, in which a person’s senses overlap in areas. For instance, one might see colors when people speak. Others might involuntarily assign smells to colors, or associate something tactile with a taste. Develop a character with synesthesia. Use a combination of taste or smell, or any of the other senses. How is your character’s life different from others? What sorts of fears or insecurities might they have? A good book featuring a synesthete is A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.