Thursday, April 9, 2015

How Music Can Make You a Better Writer

So, I’m a writer. If you’ve found your way to this blog, you probably know that. Although I don’t talk about it as much as the writing, I’m also a musician. On the surface, these two passions may not seem connected, but I’ve discovered that my love for music has greatly informed and even improved my writing. So I wanted to share how music influences my work as a writer. 

  1. Inspiration
This can happen out of the blue. A song will start playing and then BAM, I see a scene or a character or a world in my head, and the longer the song goes on the clearer that vision gets. When that inspiration strikes I write it down immediately, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I want to capture every thought while the good mojo is flowing. 

Sometimes a song and a story will meet in the middle. This usually happens when I’ve been mulling over an idea, but haven’t found enough of an angle to fully develop it. Then a song comes along, and suddenly world-building details begin to emerge from the ether, and I watch the characters grow until they take on real life. For example, early in the development of my debut novel The Year of Lightning, this song worked wonders in helping me find the right mood.

When this happens, it’s most often related to my current project. Once in a while, though, music will inspire a completely new concept. These ideas crash into me out of nowhere, usually with an urgency that begs to be written right now. For instance, the core idea for The Year of Lightning's sequel came to me while listening to this song. 

The more I listened to it, the more details fell into place, and now I'm nearly halfway finished writing it.

  1. Mood and Rhythm 
I often use music the same way you see in movies – to capture the mood of key scenes. Once I give a scene a soundtrack, it helps me pinpoint how I want the reader to feel when they read it. Great music makes it so much easier – and more satisfying – to hit that emotional target. In some cases, I’ll listen to a song over and over again so that it permeates my brain and then transfers more clearly to the page. Here's a song I kept on Repeat all the way through one climactic scene.

Rhythm is important too. Even prose must have it, whether we’re talking about the ebb and flow of one scene, or the rise and fall of an entire book. I’ve rewritten scenes because the accompanying song helped me realize I was missing a key component in the narration.    

  1. Character Definition
Sometimes I’ll hear a song and know immediately that it matches one of my characters. It’s 25% lyrics and 75% attitude and style, and I know it’s the song when that character appears unbidden in my mind and starts saying or doing things I hadn’t planned. That’s exciting because it helps me better understand who that character is and what they bring to the story. Then my goal turns to conveying that on the page so the reader can be excited about getting to know them, too. Here's the theme song to a very mouthy supporting character, Fred Marshall.

How does music play a part in your writing? Let us know in the comments! And if you dig this post, be sure to share it with all your fellow humans.

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