I don’t mean the keys and change you have in your jeans pocket. In music, “key” refers to where a song sits on the musical scale. Singing or playing something in a different key allows a melody to have the same melodic pattern, but be sung higher or lower than the original. It also provides a readily understood shorthand for communication between, for example, a singer and an accompanist. “That’s not lying comfortably for my voice. Let’s try it in A flat,” a singer might say, and the accompanist (if skilled at transposition!) will adjust the notes that are played.
Simple songs usually stay in one key throughout. Easy, straightforward, no surprises. More complicated music often has key changes, in which the foundation that the song is built on shifts to a new foundation. Although some music is written so that key changes are intentionally jarring, usually the change seems smooth and inevitable.
But what has that to do with writing?
Writing has key changes, too. A shift in scene, a shift in mood, sometimes even a shift in point of view, may be necessary in the telling of a story. Unless one’s intention is to jar the reader with something that is purposedly written as if out of place, one wants to make such transitions as smooth and inevitable as a key change in well-composed music. This takes practice, but it’s worth it.
If you’ve read books that make sudden changes so that you’re left wondering “where are we?” “whose story am I reading now?” then you know the value of working hard to make these changes seem natural. A reader that has to keep flipping back to try to figure out what’s going on in the book is not a happy reader, and may in fact leave the book half-read.
Key changes are important.
Could we try this post in the key of C?