Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Music: How it can Change your Writing

If I were to make a list of my Favorite Things, at the top it would be, a) writing, and b) music. I don't play any instruments, or sing much (besides serenading our neighbors with Newsies when I am home alone), but I have a huge spot in my heart for music.

I think sometimes people really underestimate what music can do. Music can Motivate, make you Smile, make you Laugh or Cry or feel a lot of feelings. Music gets me going, calms me down, or helps me focus.

Music is also a huge part of my writing, surprisingly. Before I discovered Spotify, I basically relied on playlists I listened to on repeat via our house speaker system. My discovery of music was a lot less of a thing then it is now. As I got more involved in my writing communities, I realized that people actually made lists of songs for their stories. What?? I had to do the thing.

Around November last year, I discovered Spotify. Oh gosh, it's a time suck. I have 30+ playlists now, 20 of which are for novels. Yeah. A lot. For each of my novels, I have a playlist for each main character, a general novel soundtrack, a score playlist, a playlist for any relationships in the story, and one for historical accurate music if it's a historical.

But I seriously think a lot of my motivation and ideas have been influenced by music. So today I want to talk about why music is important to your writing, and how you can go about getting said music.

1: Developing Characters

I am going to be perfectly honest. When I listen to any song, in the back of my head I'm always listening to the lyrics to see if it reminds me of my characters.

The concept is simple enough. When you hear the lyrics to a song, sometimes they with one of your characters. You'll hear a line of song and you'll think, Oh my gosh, this is totally a [insert character name] song. 

Sometimes a song can really capture feelings and words about a character you never thought about. I have a playlist for all of my main characters, and through the hunt for the perfect song, I have really grounded who they are.

The most important first step for writing is to know your characters. Figuring out what songs they would like or relate to is a great first step. Often times, I find that each character has their own feel. One character might have a playlist consisting of indie rock and angsty songs, while another has lighthearted flowy songs. That can be a very good developing method into their character.

2: Developing Atmosphere

Recently, I made score playlists for all my novels. These are playlists where I weeded through movie scores and soundtracks, and put together a list of movies, TV shows, and scores that fit the feel of my novel.

That was one of the smartest things I have done in a long time.

I didn't think much of it at first. I wanted specific scores for my novels. But then I realized one had all these deep, serious scores, while another had whimsical Sherlock Holmes scores. I realized that what I had just done is found atmosphere.

Atmosphere is a Big Thing for me. Atmosphere is the feel of a story. I had struggled with atmosphere for a long time, but putting together these lists I realized was the easiest way to find one. When you find other movies and stories with a similar vibe in the music, you find what you want the feel of your story to me.

The Village fits Imaginary, because it's eerie and dim while still have a bit of elegance to it, which is what I want that story to me. Roses has a lot of Interstellar and Gravity, because their soundtracks are dark, intense and heavy, but also some Into the Woods for added whimsy. My score for Looking Glass consists of Philomena, The Theory of Everything and the Imitation Game, all of which have very fun, spirited sounds, while still carrying emotion.

Basically, atmosphere is something that's hard to develop. Movies scores I think should be one of the first things to go to.

3: Creating Emotion

One of my Big Problems in my writing, is the stiff side character. Often a character Will show up midway through a story, and I don't have time to deeply develop him or her. Because of that, sometimes they seem flat, or there for comic relief purposes.

Music, is how I have escaped that. When I find songs, quite often I realize they fit a character, and quite often those songs are sad, or deep, which helps me learn things about that character I didn't know before. Sometimes, a song will catch my attention for a character, and after looking up the lyrics, I realize the song explores a subject I hadn't ever thought would fit a character, and that gets me thinking.

I have come up with a lot of backstory, scenes, and emotion in my stories because of music, and because of my constant hunt for songs.

4: Channeling a Scene

Besides my novel score lists, I have general writing music playlists. I have one for sad scores, action scores, mellow scores, and dramatic scores. These are for when I am having a hard time getting into a scene.

I am a perfectionist. When I write scenes, my editor in my head will not shut up. This scene isn't sad! This is awful!  When I put on a list of sad songs, somehow that shuts up that editor, and I get immersed in that scene, and I can see it played out in my head.

The same goes for action scenes. Action-y move scores are phenomenal for getting you into an action scene, and getting all the words onto the paper. There have been multiple occasions where I would have rather walked across a room of Lego's than written a word, but as soon as my playlists was turned on, I really was able to channel the scene and write.

5: Historical Accuracy

This is for all you historical writers. During the Research Stage, it is vital to really get your head into the decade your writing in. This means clothing, daily life, food, etc. Music is the first place you should go. Granted, some decades aren't going to have a whole lot, but I think it's important, especially for those writing in 20th century.

And honestly it's fun. It's fun thinking about the music your characters would be listening to. It's fun to find songs that fit them that were from their decade. 

It also really helps you channel this decade, and get immersed into this time. Music, guys. Music.

Okay, maybe you are like me and you're obsessed with finding new songs. Finding music won't be a problem. Maybe you aren't and you listen to the same artists over and over.

What if all you hear is the same pop stuff on the radio? I feel your pain. Really, I have developed a pretty good means of finding music.

Friends. Find your people with similar tastes. Ask them for sad songs. I have a best friend who has a longgg mental list of sad songs and I pick her brain quite often.

Genre charts: These can be found multiple places, but I rely on Spotify really. 8tracks is also a good place to start. These sites are places where you can do a search of peoples playlists for a certain mod. ""Sad mellow songs" "Romantic acoustic songs," etc.

Pandora: Pandora, or Spotify raido, is perfect. When I discover that a lot of an artist fits my story, I'll start a station. This really helps you find other artists. If you find a song that works but you don't like the pop feel, try to find an acoustic cover.

Lists: Keep a list! When you hear a song that has a feel you like, write down the artist to look up later. You can find a lot of music this way.

Historcals: To find historical music, you can find lists on Spotify or stuff, but really I don't use those as much. Many artists have albums with the dates on titles, but many of the dates Spotify gives are false. For historical music, I would look up top 100 lists of that decade. For really old decades, you may need to rely on youtube. "Music in Medieval times," and the like.

There's tons of ways to find music. Honestly, the best way to go is the start digging and see what works for you.

I hope that made sense and was helpful? I seriously cannot stress how much music has helped me develop my stories. I hope all these methods will help you to!

Some artists to start with for sad or feely songs: A Fine Frenzy, Jasmine Thompson, Boyce Avenue, First Aid Kit,  Daughter, The Head and the Heart, Lifehouse, and The Fray

You are also welcome to stalk me. My account name is meopotato


  1. Someone else uses music like I do! This makes me so happy! I don't use spotify yet but I'm addicted to Pandora. I rely on music to provoke ideas for character development and things like that. Music from Two Steps from Hell gives me lots of inspiration for setting and action scenes. I don't know what I'd do without music to aid my writing. Great post!

    1. Ahaaa music is my life. Thanks!

    2. Hi! Me again. I just wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for the Creative Blogger Award. Thanks for writing such interesting posts and I hope you have fun with this award!

    3. Oh goodness! So Sorry I never saw this! Thank you so much that's super sweet!