I may have mentioned this before, but I live my life to a soundtrack. I do everything to music, or at least to some sort of background noise. Even sleep- I actually cannot sleep if I don’t have music playing, no matter how tired I am. So, when I sat down and started seriously writing, rather than writing during classes as a way to avoid listening to the teachers, I wasn’t all that surprised that I needed music to keep me focused.
I have ADD, and it manifests in such a way that I am actually incapable of doing only one thing. I HAVE to multi-task. Listening to music occupies enough of my brain that the larger part can focus on whatever’s in front of me. I know it sounds crazy, but that is the twisted way my brain works. If I try to work on just one thing, everything splinters and scatters and I end up not being able to focus on anything to such an extent that when I do add the background sound, my concentration is still shot. I get entire days like that sometimes where I can’t focus on anything to save my life- those days suck.
The thing is, if you troll through author blogs, you’ll find a lot of them mention music. Some will actually create book specific playlists and talk about how each song affected the writing. As part of her countdown to the release of Invincible Summer, Hannah Moskowitz is posting a new song each day, and tells very specifically how the song figured into the writing. Stephenie Meyer put up her playlists on her website, and I know others do as well.
What’s interesting to me- and the reason I’m writing this particular post- is that it seems like each writer uses their soundtracks a different way. The process of writing fascinates me, especially in how it differs from person to person, and the more I read on the soundtracks, the more I wondered about them.
Some authors use them as character guides. Each character has a theme song or sorts, a song that reflects their personality and outlook, maybe even their station in life or their dreams and where they want to be. They find songs that reflect certain relationships or pairings. A relationship that uses “Color of the Night” for example is going to be very, very different than a relationship that defines itself with “My Funny Valentine” or “Because You Loved Me”. Light, fluffy characters are most likely not going to use soul-searching power ballads, and your bad boy should probably not listen to Rebecca Black- unless it’s to make fun of her. The songs can define the characters the same way they define people in real life, like a certain song will make you think of your prom date, or your mother, or your best friend. You may be the only person in the world who makes the connection between the character and the song, but for you, there’s something about the two that just goes together. When all your theme songs are together, suddenly you have a full cast, and you can switch between the songs as you need to in order to better understand the characters.
Some authors use them as story maps. Each song represents a different part of the story and they go in order. The song may reflect the characters at that moment, or the action, or it could be the pace of the song that sets the mood. The order is important for this style; if you change the order of the songs, you actually change the order of the story. Think of it as a Broadway musical: when listening to the CD, you don’t have to have the actors sitting in front of you doing the actions. You KNOW what’s going on- because they’re telling you. The songs actually tell the story, like their own outline.
Then there’s the playlist that acts as a movie soundtrack. There may be recurring themes that pop up, a character may have a song, but a moment might as well. This one I like to think of as a Doctor Who episode. Yes, I’m that kind of geek, and proud of it. If you pay attention to the music, though, you can hear the individual themes that both define and accentuate what’s going on. When you hear the Doctor’s theme, or Rose’s theme, shivers go down your spine. You get the build-up for the tense moment of revelation, you get the slightly bittersweet resolutions, you get the heart-breaking moments, and then- my favorite part- THE RUNNING. Oh, the running. When you hear that music, you know what’s going on. If you know your story in advance well enough to map it out that way, creating the visual soundtrack.
I don’t do any of these.
I play my music because it satisfies the indemnity of the ADD. I pick my writing playlists because of my ability to zone them out. They’re lists I absolutely love and listen to all the time, so familiar that they don’t jar me out of my concentration, but my foot still taps to the beat (as the folks at Chick-fil-A like to tell me). A lot of my list is Celtic/Folk stuff: Scythian, The Town Pants, Ceann, Tartan Terrors…(are you scared of me yet?). Most of the time, I’ll take a break from the writing to gather thoughts and stretch my hands, and I’m stunned by how many songs have gone by. Every now and then I’ll switch things up and play a Cirque de Soleil soundtrack.
I’ve found that there are things I love that I can’t write to. I can’t write to Glee- I want to sing along too badly. Not a good idea considering I write in a public place and I’m trying to be productive. As much as I love classical music, I tend to zone out a little too much; I zone right past the music AND past the words I’m trying to write. With some specific song exceptions, I can’t even listen to Doctor Who; I know the episodes too well. I can actually see what’s going on when the music switches, which doesn’t lend well to writing my own stuff. I can go through every single playlist and know whether or not I can write to it.
But, of course, even with me, there are exceptions.
On one of my earlier projects, I had a song stuck in my head. Could not for the life of me get it out. So I finally gave in to the inevitable and put it on repeat while I was writing that day. The scene that emerged from that day stunned me. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was gorgeous and bittersweet and a little bit haunting. Just like the song. It worked in such a good way for the characters in that scene, who were at a point where something needed to shift but I wasn’t sure what needed to happen precisely. I couldn’t recreate that inspiration if I tried, but I’m glad I gave in to the impulse that day.
And then there’s this new project. All through the planning, and through the first three chapters, I’ve only been able to play one CD. Everything else, with a couple of single song exceptions that take way too much effort to sort through and find, it’s just this one CD. And I’m okay with that. What it’s adding to the story is a little creepy, a little haunting, a little menacing, and a little sad. Exactly what I’m going for. It’s very different from what I’m used to, but as long as it’s working, I’m going to keep going with it.
So what do you do? Do you write to a soundtrack? Does it help? What do you like to write to? Inquiring minds (mainly mine) want to know!
Until next time~