We’ve been asked a few times about music, writing, and reading. While a soundtrack for a book is a very individual thing, it’s not a bad idea to throw some lines in the back of the book about what you were listening to while you wrote… don’t quote song lyrics, though, that stuff can get you in trouble. I may do a post on my personal blog when I publish the next book, with a soundtrack listing.
However, I can talk about music and how it affects my writing. Firstly, I think it’s different for every book, and every person. Each of us have individual likes and dislikes. But maybe I can suggest some things that will help you find your groove on the record. When the music is right for me, my fingers fly. And, something else, make notes of what really works, because trust me on this, you will forget, and it can be handy to remember for the next book in the series, or that soundtrack.
I first remember connecting strongly a song and a book with John Ringo, and the March of Cambreadth. In time, that piece became a family favorite, and I owned several CDs by the musician. I’ve learned in the years since then that his musical taste and mine align fairly well, and I will pick up a book of his and look for the music so I can go buy it. I have very eclectic taste, however. I can listen to anything from the latest pop (courtesy of my kids, but Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive is such a SF song, and I haven’t looked up the lyrics on purpose. I’d rather mishear them my way.) to medieval chants. Yes, I know Orff is misused, but dang! The man could evoke a feeling.
Evocative is the first thing I look for in a song to build a playlist around – I’ll get to the details of that in a minute – because I’m using the music to build a mood in me, and then let it pour out onto the page. It’s rare I use music as background noise, I use tv shows for that, in a flooding technique, to help me work without being twitchy. So if I am writing combat, I look for a song like March, or, most recently, Rammstein’s Mein Herz Brennt or Die Trying by Art of Dying.
For a more emotional mood, I like Philip Wesley’s Racing the Sunset, or The Gael, by Andrew Jackson on uillean pipes. I used the latter to write a fey celebration of the return of Mannan Mac’Lir in the God’s Wolfling, where the main character wound up dancing with a Banshee and getting drunk on emotion. It worked nicely for that, and that scene is a good example of the way music can influence what you are writing – it pulled me in just the way I was writing a young woman pulled into the music.
Music that transports you is excellent for writing. However, I know I can fall down the rabbit hole while searching for just the right song, so these are a few of the things I do to minimize that time. First, I’ll pick one song that works for the mood I’m trying to set. Normally I can do this off the top of my head. Earlier today, my First Reader suggested the B52’s Love Shack for a lovemaking scene… which made me laugh. There’s nothing wrong with mixing sex and laughter, but usually I’d choose something like Dashboard Confessional’s Even Now for this particular scene, where I was being more poignant than boisterous.
Once I have the kernel song, I can use several tools to build a playlist. One is my iTunes library, but it’s large, as I said before eclectic, and I can push the genius button and get something interesting in a couple of moments. This may not work for you. If you use Pandora, seed the song, or artists, that work, and you will usually get some good stuff. Not always. I was looking for old-school pop, and put in Bing Crosby to add some croon… and got Christmas music. Sigh. Youtube is another way to do it, by searching for the song and seeing what else pops up. I don’t like to use youtube while I am writing, because I have to go push a button every few minutes, and that throws me out of the scene. I’m more likely to use iTunes or Pandora, or Amazon music.
If you have playlist generation tools, please do share, along with music that works for you… maybe I’ll pick up some new songs! I could go on with a long list of my favorites, but I won’t unless you ask.
Mad Genius Songs:
Sarah Hoyt – Fluffy’s Master Plan for World Domination
Amanda Green – Poisoning Pigeons in the Park
Kate Paulk – Monster Mash
Dave Freer – Fishheads
Cedar Sanderson – Thrift Shop (40’s style)
Various Contributors – Everything at Once