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Writing to music
By Quan Williams
When I write my stories, I often like to listen to music. For some, listening to music while they work is just a way to help them calm down or focus. But I use music for a different purpose, and I’m quite sure many other writers do the same. For me, music provides an ample way to set mood and tone for the stories I write. It’s very similar to how music plays an integral role in movies: a good soundtrack that fits the story stirs up emotions and feelings that really drive home the theme of the action in the story at that moment. So if that principle works when I’m watching a movie or playing a video game, then I figure it will also work when creating these stories.
For instance, I had an extensive list of songs and artists I listened to while writing my Sci-fi horror novel Godmode. It was an eclectic mix of artists ranging from Portishead to Linkin Park to Evanescence to composers Robyn Miller, Hidekai Kobayashi & Fumie Kumatani to even the French electronica group Air. Since all of these artists have distinct sounds, I use their music for different aspects of my story.
If I wanted my scene to feel creepy and ominous, I played Robyn Miller’s Riven Soundtrack. For something just as creepy but more menacing, I’d play Portishead’s Third. If I wanted some pathos and raw emotion, Evanescence’s “Like You” was a perfect fit. And for action, I listened to heavy doses of Hidekai Kobayashi & Fumie Kumatani’s Phantasy Star Online Soundtrack. That music made for some epic sci-fi fighting, especially for some of the larger, more high-stakes monster fights. I also listened to the more aggressive songs by Evanescence and Linkin Park.
Currently I’m writing a new book, and I’m looking for an epic, blockbuster action feel, so my background music of choice is now the Inception soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. I listen to the faster-paced tracks while I’m writing the action scenes, and everything else for, well, everything else. I also have an epic, high-fantasy kung-fu story I want to write, and for that I would listen to a mix of traditional Asian music and grand, sweeping Lord Of The Rings-styled adventure music.
When choosing the perfect writing music, first consider what you’re writing about. What is the setting of the story, and what kind of mood are you trying to set up? What is happening in the story, and what plot points within that scene are you trying to emphasize? Once you’ve figured that out, then it’s a matter of finding appropriate music that fits that mood, setting and action. Also keep in mind that even within those criteria, different songs you write to will create different moods. A sweeping love theme by John Williams will work differently from an intimate love song by Adele, even though you could use either for the same scene; and an epic action song from John Barry’s James Bond soundtracks has a different feel than an aggressive heavy metal song from Metalica.
Also, when writing to music, if you can write fast enough to keep up with the song, then do so. It will help you to capture the mood and the feelings that the music evokes. And once you are finished with your scene, always go back and read it over to your music. This way you can tell if you’ve managed to capture the mood the way you originally intended.
Give it a try! Who knows: when your book is optioned for a motion picture, maybe the producers will get soundtrack music similar to what you used to write it to.