I don’t usually listen to music while I’m writing, but there are times when I will immerse myself into a playlist before I begin the day’s writing session. I create playlists during the planning stage of a project. I do this for three reasons. It helps me set the tone or atmosphere of the story and scenes. It helps me get to know my characters better and it often helps with pacing.
Atmosphere or Mood
Movies use music to lead viewers. If done right, the music becomes another character. Think of the theme to Jaws, that iconic dundun alerts us to danger. A well-written film score uses everything from melodies to crashing symbols to help us understand the emotion beneath the performances.
You can do the same thing for your novel, short story or even a poem.
When I wrote The Widows of Wyatt Abney I had multiple playlists. For scenes with the antagonist, I listened to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins. The tone of that double CD set conveyed the relationship between her and the protagonist. It’s dark and edgy.
The relationship between my protagonist and Wyatt required a playlist that included songs representing their rhythm, their thoughts and their actions. Some fit lyrically, some musically.Character & Setting Development
Have you heard the song 93 Million Miles by Jason Mraz? I love everything about it—the lyrics, the music—I think of my parents when I hear it. I’m sure you have a song or two that reminds you of someone no matter where or when you hear it.
Many authors interview their characters in order to get to know them better. I suggest you learn what kind of music they like as well. It won’t come easy, but find a way to have your lead character reveal his or her favorite song to you and then discover why it appeals to them.
A person’s culture has a huge effect on their musical preferences. Listening to music from cultures other than your own could go a long way in establishing the setting of your story. Whether it takes place in a foreign land or your character is a foreigner bringing his cultural preferences to a new land.
PacingDifferent musical genres, tempos and specific instruments help to pace scenes. Upbeat music for action scenes. Guitar or piano heavy songs for emotional scenes. Having an array of beats keeps the pace from stagnating and creates a rhythm similar to real life. Ups and downs.
One of the short stories I wrote for a creative writing class opened with the main character relaxing in the tub. She’s tired and reflecting on her day. The song that inspired the scene and I went back to over and over again was a blues tune by St. Louis Jimmy. The unhurried rhythm of the music helped me write mid to long sentences which in turn set the pace for that scene.
The song Thunderstruck by ACDC would be good inspiration for an argument. It gives off a vibe of something trying to escape and it eventually does. Perfect for the tension between two people disagreeing. Incendiary remarks followed by unrestrained insults.
There are many reasons to make music a part of your writing routine. You don’t have to write to music, but having a song or list of songs in your mind as you write could open the door to possibilities you hadn’t expected.
Remember, a playlist is a tool. What you might find emotional or aggressive could make someone else feel nothing. As long as you use the tool to bring something out of you and put it on the page that’s all that matters.