Do you listen to music when you write? Or do you imagine a soundtrack to go with your story, as if it were a movie?
I’ve been contemplating the relationship of music and writing – two different expressions of creativity – and the connections that are sometimes made between the two. In our world of movies and television as forms of storytelling, mood music has become a common reference point for the imaginative mind.
Periodically in writing groups online, someone will survey preferences among writers for listening to music while writing. I’ve always been one who preferred to write in silence, but favourite musical genres or mood music appear to be generally popular, though I’m far from alone in my quiet world-building universe.
Once in a while someone will even include a playlist in a novel, expressing that these are the songs they would recommend as the story plays out through the video medium of imagination. It screams outamateur, yet I can appreciate the associations the writer has established between the suggested music and the unfolding story.
There are a couple of problems with the idea of suggesting a playlist for a novel. The biggest one is that musical taste is subjective. The songs that the writer chooses may be in a musical genre that the reader doesn’t like. The unfamiliarity of at least some songs would be more distracting than enhancing of the story. Quite honestly, in the occasional instances I’ve seen such a playlist, I’ve either ignored it or listened to a couple of songs on YouTube and rejected it completely.
Despite that, I sometimes find familiar songs playing in my head when writing. The most notable instance was when I was first conceptualising the spirit of The Dance in the first book of my Goblin series, Dance of the Goblins. A dramatic piece of music that I had encountered at an ice skating show repeated through my head. It was totally inappropriate for a ‘soundtrack’ for that setting, but the drama and tempo of the music spoke to me and added to the intensity of the concept, taking The Dance deeply into a Shamanic expression of connection to the Earth and nature magic.
Conversely, in my upcoming time and space travel farce, The Chase for Choronzon, I refer to both popular and lesser known songs in the pub between the worlds where a random playlist is always in force, ranging across musical genres dramatically. This works because the randomness of the tracks is the point of that aspect of the story.
Writing about music is another kettle of fish entirely. In books like The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux or Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven, music plays an integral part of the story, yet the writer must get the idea of music across within a silent medium. While I had some degree of this involved in describing the drumming and ethereal flute music of my goblin world, these stories required a full expression of operatic music for an audience who would only include a small percentage of opera fans. What a challenge!
Music crops up in a lot of stories that might otherwise not be largely about the music itself. For example, a reference to a band or two that the main characters might be going to see. In some books, actual bands might be mentioned like in Shanna Lauffey’s Time Shifters series where a time traveller often attends concerts in the past, obviously having researched dates, even playlists, of gigs that actually occurred. In other stories, imaginary bands are mentioned. How often have you been in conversation and someone makes a reference, followed by, “That would be a great name for a band!”
As a writer, those references can easily show up in a story, if only in passing. In some stories, like Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the imaginary band itself can even be the main focus of the plot.
What is your relationship with music in reference to your writing? Do you listen while you play? Have you written anything based on music? Do you ‘hear’ songs in your mind while you write? Please tell us in the comments!
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