Which Came First: the Book or the Song?

Currently, the bro and I are doing a Christmas show out in Bristol, PA for the month.  It’s a great little gig, with some fantastic people.  Most of the rehearsals are at night however, so we’ve taken this opportunity as a mini writer’s retreat and trying to write/finish Musical 2 (for lack of a title).  It takes place in Italy during WWII, specifically toward the end of the war and the northern occupation.  It’s a fascinating topic and one that most people haven’t really explored.  It’s one even I’m learning about as we continue to research and write.

We’re slowly getting through it (we’re up to about 4 scenes in Act 1) and we have to finish the whole show by the end of the month for a deadline.


The pressure is on.

As we were doing our research however, before we started writing the script, we went over our writing process for On the Air.  Now, like I’ve said before, On the Air was our first musical so it was a bit of a learning process (hell, this one is too), but we did learn some things about what worked for us and what didn’t.  More specifically what made our life more difficult and what made it immensely easier.


With On the Air, we ended up writing a lot of the music first.  Some writers work this way and that’s great for them.  What we found was it kind of bit us in the butt later on as we were doing rewrites and even just coming up with the book.  We had to write the scene around the song.  Especially during rewrites, things would change; a character’s motivation, some action in the plot, a character was completely cut, etc.  So we were left with some quandaries with what to do with these songs.


Some of them we were able to save by changing the lyrics slightly (although THAT was a pain); some we moved to different scenes; and some were just trunked.  We have about 4 or 5 songs at this point that are no longer in the show.

For us, lyrics and song writing are the easiest.  The book on the other hand…


I’m convinced the book is the hardest to write in a musical.  The bro says it all the time; “You can have a fantastic book and an ok score and the show will do well.  You can have an amazing score, but if you have a crappy book, it’s gonna tank.”  For the most part, I’ve found this to be true.

So this time around we’ve decided to write the book first and then write the score.  We have a detailed outline and as we’re writing the scenes, if we feel we need a song we’ll put such wonderfully descriptive notes such as:






As you can tell, we’re extremely detailed and descriptive writers.

Hopefully though this will help us in the long run.  Sometimes you don’t know how the scene will play out until you actually write it.  So far, it’s freaking hard.  Not gonna lie.


Naturally, some scenes are easier to write than others.  Some scenes the bro is better at writing at.  Some scenes I’m better at writing at.  It’s why we’re a team.  That’s what makes it a bit easier – having someone to bounce ideas off of.

Who knows if this method will work in the long run or if we’ll go back to writing the songs first or maybe both at the same time, but I thought I’d share our latest writing process with you all and see what you prefer.  Much like the chicken and the egg, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here.  Some writers swear by writing the score first and some the book.  I think the important thing is that you get it done and you feel they both mesh well together into a cohesive unit.

Ok, I better get back to working this scene cause the bro is yelling at me.  (He can be scary sometimes).

Happy writing!

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