Music and prose

Following several interesting discussions sparked off by my first blog on writing process, I thought I’d have a crack at writing a second. What I’d like to reflect upon here is how useful I’ve found assigning particular songs to certain sequences, settings or even whole chapters of my novel.

I first tried this because I wanted to create a kind of reference point for the feel of some of my scenes; a way of standardising say, a certain location’s mood or the mindset of a particular character. It seemed like a decent enough idea and, once I’d decided on a suitable selection of tracks for a sequence, I always made sure to have a quick listen through any time I wanted to add anything more to said sequence, hopefully preventing myself from accidentally bolting on any tonally dissimilar sentences.

However, I soon realised music could do more for my work than just help with continuity.

I think everybody’s experienced that moment when a familiar song comes on and you’re instantly reminded of how you felt when you first heard it; I know when I hear tracks from Echo Park by Feeder, I suddenly feel as sad as I did at the end of the book I was reading when I bought the album (Watership Down). I mention this because, as I began carefully allocating scene A with track list B, I started to realise a lot of the older songs in my music library put me in the precise mental state I’d been in when I’d first listened to them during my teenage years.

Now, a lot of teenagers have an incredible amount to deal with and dredging some of that back up could perhaps be considered a bad idea, but upon taking the plunge myself, I recognised I’d discovered a priceless writing tool.

Let me explain a little bit more. The two main characters in my YA novel are, unsurprisingly, teenagers and having not been one for a while, I was sometimes finding it difficult to work out how certain events in the plot might affect them. In rediscovering some of my older music, I realised I’d stumbled upon a valuable window into how I’d felt during the more testing times (but comparatively meagre in the grand scheme) I had gone through as a teenager; insecurity, break ups, cancelation of my favourite TV show etc.

So, the point is, I was suddenly able to construct more realistic reactions and responses to some of the more emotive events that occur throughout my plot, simply because my old music could reminded me of how I’d felt and thought during similar, albeit far less extreme, situations. It really was somewhat of a revelation.

Anyway, if anybody else does something similar, or has any other writing tips to share for that matter, I’d love to hear.

13 responses to Music and prose

  1. What an interesting post! Though i do find it hard myself listening to music whilst writing, especially some of my favourite music. This is because i often become distracted by the music and sometimes end up writing the lyrics down rather than the word/sentence i wanted.

    Listening to music does however spark my creative flow. It’s helped me come up with an entire story before (one i’ve written down and stored for the future). The music i was listening to at the time did have a certain feel to it, which hopefully will reflect in the tone of the story once it is written.

    • jackcroxall said:

      Thank you, Dan! I must say I’m intrigued by your entire story born from music. If it’s for your site, do you think you’ll include a link to the songs that influenced it?

      • The story it sparked is an adult fiction story, one that I haven’t even started writing but one I have planned thoroughly. It is so different than my YA novel I’m currently writing, much more realistic and set entirely on characters rather than plot. If/when it is finished I would definitely let everyone know what music inspired it. I think it’s becoming a bit of a trend. Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night has uploaded the entire playlist she listened to whilst writing those two novels.

  2. I agree with Dan – I just don’t find it easy to write to music, especially my favourite tunes. I think I lack the self control to separate the two activities, and usually end up just singing along and not writing. I also agree that it can be a great starting point to spark a story. It’s amazing the kind of memories a song can throw up. Like when I listen to The Cure it always makes me think of walking home late at night from my first boyfriend’s house, of being kind of scared and kind of excited all at the same time — of walking down wet cobbled streets, and of the smell there’d be outside when it rained. I always loved those walks home, listening to music. It gave me great thinking time. Many of my first teenage attempts at story writing came from ideas I had on those walks home.

    • jackcroxall said:

      Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Wow, your memories associated with The Cure seem wonderfully vivid, their music must really have affected you!

      • Jess said:

        I suppose they are quite vivid. I just enjoyed those nights, and when I listen to The Cure I like to remember them :)

  3. Bailie said:

    It varies for me, sometimes I get so into the zone when I write that I don’t even notice whatever my husband has playing on his projector in the same room. I did write one novel almost entirely while listening to Regina Spektor’s music though. I think for me it’s mostly a mood thing, I can be in the mood to listen to music while I write but I definitely don’t need it.

  4. Anne Marie Hilse said:

    This novel has been inspired by the music of Meatloaf.

  5. I think it was Nika Harper, but someone in a video blog recently mentioned that they listened to a consistent movie score while they are working on a specific story. This helps them maintain the tone or feel of the story throughout.

  6. The great thing about writing with headphones on is that it cuts out background noise from the house.

    The downside is that when someone walks in behind you, it scares the hell out of you.

  7. Ciara Darren said:

    Love this! I always listen to music while I’m writing. Each project has its own soundtrack, which changes as the flow of the story shifts. If I’m off a project for a while, I can always pick it up again with a few minutes of listening. Perfect way of hot wiring my mood into the scene. Thanks for the post!

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