Write Me A Story, Sing Me A Song (TCWT)

Write Me A Story, Sing Me A Song (TCWT)

The title of this post is a line from a song called Shout In The Dark that I wrote and produced a video for back in 2012. It’s on YouTube, if you’re interested. Apologies for my untrained singing voice.

The Teens Can Write Too! blog chain prompt for this month is something I’ve talked about a bit on this blog before, but it’s something I’m always happy to go back and discuss further because it’s something crucial to my writing process: music. More specifically, the question is:

 “How does music relate to your writing?”

Which I guess can be interpreted in different ways, so I’m going to talk about all the ways I use music when I’m writing.

The first is for inspiration. As in, ‘this song gave me the entire concept and idea for this novel’, rather than something that plays in the background and helps me to keep going, although that’s important too. I’ve used songs as a starting point for a couple of novels now, and it’s been reasonably effective, because whenever I got stuck on plot or began losing focus, I’d listen to the song again and remember what prompted me to write the book.

Examples, then. My 2013 NaNoWriMo novel, Recall, was originally inspired by a single line from the Muse song The Small Print. Of course that was only the core concept, and I had to develop the plot a lot further (I had a mind map of ideas for that novel on the inside of my wardrobe for months before I ever started writing — I think I had the original idea in about February but didn’t write it until November), but the concept came from that song.

Sell, I’ll sell your memories for 15 pounds per year

That was it. That’s where the novel came from. I took ideas from a few other lines in the song, but the idea of selling your memories was the idea from which the whole novel was born. The result was a novel called Recall that is still an unedited, somewhat messy first draft that I one day want to go back to, but haven’t had the time yet. It needs a lot of work, so it’s a long-term project.

I ended up using hardly any of the ideas in this mindmap at all. But it shows you how I approached it.
I ended up using hardly any of the ideas in this mindmap at all. But it shows you how I approached it.

The year before, I wrote a different novel also inspired by a song: Ten Thousand Miles To Bedlam by Ockham’s Razor gave birth to my novel Weapons of Chaos. In this case, it was a more significant inspiration, because I took ideas from almost the whole song. I also ended up using ideas from another Ockham’s Razor song from the same album, Mad Tom Of Bedlam Town, although this is an interpretation of a traditional song.

There’s a seventeenth century poem called Loving Mad Tom that I recently read and like a lot, so I guess if I’d read that back then, it would’ve been a factor too.

So that’s how it works with inspiration. Now let’s move onto playlists.

I make extensive novel playlists, as my beta readers will be well aware: I’m always sending them songs with a label like ‘isabel b3’ or ‘so much irial/fearghall’, usually songs I’ve chosen specifically because it’ll make them cry. (Muah ha ha ha.) These playlists are designed to encapsulate the mood, plot, and character of the novel. So there will be songs that, in my head, sum up a particular character or a particular scene, and I’ll put them in order accordingly.

My writing playlists are only a small section of my Spotify playlists -- I have a stupidly large number of them.
My writing playlists are only a small section of my Spotify playlists — I have a stupidly large number of them.

When I first made my Moth Trilogy playlist, I struggled to find songs that suited Isabel. Death and Fairies was easier — all the moody, indie folk stuff I listen to normally suited my characters just fine, and occasional emo rock fit in perfectly. But with Isabel, I knew that wasn’t what I needed. I ended up seeking out a lot of music that I didn’t normally listen to, and discovered how much I like Green Day.

I use these playlists when I’m plotting the novel. I’ll listen to them when I’m stuck, and see if anything gives me ideas. Sometimes, I’ll write something specific because of a song; at other times, it’s just the mood that gets to me. Then, when I know them well enough that they can blend into the background and not distract me, I use them while I’m actually writing, to help keep me focused. And I use them when I’m reading through, to see if I got the ideas I wanted.

I also add to them a lot as I’m going along — they’re often not finished even after the first draft of the novel is. And they end up with great titles like “This Novel Really Needs A Title Also This Playlist Is Just Angst I’m Sorry” until I actually end up naming the book, which can take months.

Sometimes they’re novel-specific playlists. The Moth Trilogy has a shared playlist for the first two books, because of the elements of the tone and plot that are similar, but book 3 (currently just called ‘Moth 3’) has a separate playlist because the character is radically different. Meanwhile, I have individual character playlists for characters in Death and Fairies, and that’s always great fun. One of the playlists is for a particular relationship and I can’t even listen to it without getting emotional. I call them ‘Immortal Drama Queens’ but really ‘stupidly heartbreaking drama queens’ would be more accurate.

Finally, I have more general playlists. “Death Scenes” is a good one. I like that playlist quite a lot. I used to always use instrumental music when I wrote, so I created these playlists (“Epic Writing Music” is another) to help me get in the mood. But I don’t use them so often now, because I like the ones with words as well.

How does music relate to my writing? In pretty much every way possible. I’ve even written songs for characters, although they’re pretty rubbish. Writing is an absolutely central part of my process, from the first concept to the drafting to the editing.

And for those who are interest, here’s a small section of the 45-track playlist I currently have for the Moth Trilogy. Apologies for the explicit song title on there, young ‘uns. moth trilogy playlist

How does everybody else use music? Check out the rest of the chain to find out. It’s a busy one this month!

6thhttp://jasperlindell.blogspot.com/ and http://vergeofexisting.wordpress.com/
11thhttp://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/ and http://www.pamelanicolewrites.com/
13thhttp://finnlongman.com/ and http://whileishouldbedoingprecal.weebly.com/
15thhttp://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ and http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/
16thhttp://theedfiles.blogspot.com/ and http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/
17thhttp://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/ and http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/
18thhttp://semilegacy.blogspot.com/ and http://from-stacy.blogspot.com/
21sthttps://stayandwatchthestars.wordpress.com/ and http://arielkalati.blogspot.com/
22ndhttp://loonyliterate.com/ and https://www.mirrormadeofwords.wordpress.com/
24thhttp://themagicviolinist.blogspot.com/ and http://allisonthewriter.wordpress.com/
26thhttp://awritersfaith.blogspot.com/ and http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/
27thhttp://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/ and http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/
28th – https://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

8 thoughts on “Write Me A Story, Sing Me A Song (TCWT)

  1. Yep, I use music for exactly the same thing. Sometimes, you spend hours and nothing might happen, but other times, a single unexpected song can spark ideas, or make you visualize things about your novel in another perspective. Music is a brilliant writing process companion :D

    1. Yeah — I used to get a lot of my novel ideas while walking home from school, because I always had music on but wasn’t really doing anything else. I don’t make as many journeys as that anymore so I guess I listen to music on-the-go a bit less, but it’s still helpful.

  2. Wow, this is very organized music-listening. I’m definitely not accustomed to that much investment between my music and my writing, but what I will say is that I love the concept of geting a novel from a song lyric. Sometimes I think we underestimate the writing power of songwriters, just because that music and that word in one moment can cause a big bang inside of our heads. It’s CRAZY. And it made me happy to hear. I loved the anecdotes, so thanks for sharing them. :)

    1. Music has always been a pretty massive part of my life — I’ve played instruments and sung since I was very young. So I guess that impacts how I relate to it. Thanks for reading :)

  3. Oh wow, it’s so amazing how you can be inspired by a song. That normally doesn’t happen to me, because I tend to choose songs without lyrics for writing purposes to avoid distraction. That said, I think the Swan Lake music definitely inspired the rather dark MC in my current WIP.

    (Psst, here’s my TCWT post!)

    1. I definitely pay a lot of attention to song lyrics. I think how I relate to music links a lot to how I use poetry, as well as my musical upbringing, so I guess that contributes to it.

    1. Maggie Stiefvater once said something along the lines of, “If I can’t find songs to fit the playlist, I don’t yet know the mood of the book well enough to start.” (I’m paraphrasing there.) It’s definitely true that when I’m struggling to find songs that fit, it’s usually because I’m not clear on what mood I want to convey. Once I know what I’m doing, I can find songs easily. Playlists are therefore a form of planning. And also procrastination.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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