A Musical Interlude (AKA Does Your Novel Have a Soundtrack?)

Last week I discussed visual aids as a source of inspiration for my writing, so this week I wanted to talk about that other key sensory input – audio. Let me start by saying that I am passionate about music, all sorts of music. I can go from bluegrass to Scandinavian folk metal to electro swing to classical and back around, through many, many other genres besides. Nothing inspires me like music, and nothing focuses me when I’m writing like music. I put my headphones in, tune everything else out, and just focus.

Now seemingly I’m in the minority in this. I’ve read that many writers prefer silence, and find music to be a distraction. I’m the exact opposite. I find silence to be distracting, almost annoying. Just in general I need background noise – if I’m not listening to music, then I’ve got the TV going (I generally don’t have the TV going when I write, because it can be a distraction, but when it comes to doing stuff around the house, working on my computer, etc., I almost always have the TV on, even if I’m not really watching it, simply because I don’t like quiet). I guess I’m just crazy that way.

As well as helping me tune out distractions when I write, my other key motivator is that the right music puts me in the right frame of mind for the tone of my story. For me, music is all about emotion. It’s not so much about the lyrics or the tune, it’s about the emotional state that the music puts me in. This is one reason I very much enjoy music from all around the world – it doesn’t matter to me if the singer is singing in a language I don’t speak, what matters is how the music makes me feel.

When it comes to my writing, one of the first things I almost always do when I’m outlining/developing a new story is to put together a playlist that serves as the ‘soundtrack’ to my story. Part of this stems, I think, from the fact that I’m a huge movie buff. What does this have to do with music, you ask? Well, because of my love of movies, when I’m writing a scene I often visualize it as if it were a scene in a movie. And I realized that – just like in the movies – the right song playing in the background can make all the difference in setting the mood of the scene.

This is how the idea of a soundtrack for my novels came about. When I start developing the story, I put together a collection of songs that either have the right feel for the type of story I’m writing, or that when I listen to them I can almost picture a scene from my story. I also like to have a theme song for each significant character in my story – a song that captures the personality of that character, that makes me immediately think of them when I listen to it. Taking all of these songs, I build a playlist, then I try to listen to it while I’m writing. I’ve found that it not only improves my output, but it makes the writing process that much more of an enjoyable experience.

So am I alone in this? I know that I once talked with a writer friend of mine about creating a soundtrack to my stories, and she looked at me like I was crazy. If you do listen to music while you write, what sort of music do you prefer? To finish things, I’ve put together a YouTube playlist featuring many of the songs on the soundtrack to my current WIP. Give it a listen!

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