Have you ever read a book and thought that a particular song would fit perfectly with a certain scene? It happens to me all the time! As I play out scenes from books in my head I often find that I, subconsciously, insert a musical score or a favourite song. Similarly, when listening to the radio I hear songs that I think would fit perfectly with a certain book or scene in a book.
So often do I do this that I (and my sister) can’t read the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when Dumbledore dies without imagining Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide and Seek’ playing at the funeral. We also can’t read the beginning of New Moon when Edward leaves Bella without thinking about how perfectly Angus and Julia Stone’s ‘All of Me’ fits with that and the following scenes.
It comes as little surprise then that music is regularly used by authors to help with their writing. Songs can help to set the scene or bring out a certain emotion. Think about it, when you listen to pop music you’re more inclined to picture your character in an upbeat, happy mood, making plans or accomplishing something great. Likewise, if you’re listening to more somber music I’d bet your writing reflects that with a more subdued scene.
Many big authors say that they listen to music to “get them in the mood” so to speak. Stephanie Meyer reveals on her website that she “can’t write without music” and has even compiled a track list of songs. Some of the artists she used to listen to while writing the Twilight series ended up appearing in the movies (Muse, Death Cab for Cutie etc).
So, how should you use music while writing?
Firstly, think about how you write. I personally can’t write while music is playing, I need absolute silence. However, listening to a song or group of songs before I start writing can often motivate me to get writing or set the scene for what I’m writing. If I blast out something upbeat and loud I become really fired up and eager to put pen to paper! Similarly, if I’m finding it difficult to tap into the emotion of my character for a scene, listening to music can help me channel their emotions, making it easier to write a scene.
Secondly, think about what you’re writing and choose appropriate music. Listening to Muse and Death Cab for Cutie worked for Stephanie Meyer because their songs had an intense, dark vibe about them which fit with what she was writing. There’s no point listening to your favourite metal band if you’re writing a delicate romance scene between your two leads.
Thirdly, incorporate music into your character’s personality but make sure it fits. Music choice can say a lot about a character. Ian Rankin uses music to great effect to build the character of his famous detective, Rebus. Rankin is quoted on his website as saying that “if you are new to the Rebus books you can ascertain his age, class and personality from his listening choices.” Be careful to ensure that the musical tastes you include are appropriate. I’m always frustrated when I read about a character being in love with classical music when their background doesn’t support that. It might sound classy, romantic or highbrow to you but it can come off as pretentious to readers and can jar with the story.
Lastly, make a playlist that fits with your novel. Like a mood board, a playlist can help you to focus on how you want your book to feel, or what direction you want to take it. You never know, if you become a successful, published author you too might be posting your track list on your website or even advising filmmakers on what music they
should include in your film!
What songs or artists to do you like to listen to while you’re writing?
Sarah Murray works for Appliances Online. When she’s not daydreaming to her favourite tracks she enjoys working on her novel in Starbucks (poser!) and collecting classic
literature. Follow her life on Twitter.