Music and Writing

The Last of the Mohicans (1992 film)
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Choose music that matches the tone of your book, even the particular scenes, and you set your muse free.

I think most people intuitively feel the connection between music and emotion; it seems to be hardwired into us. Scientits recognize it: there was a case reported in the New York Times about a man who lost his connection between music and emotion due to a stroke. It should therefore be no surprise that music can be a great tool when writing. Many authors will even note which songs or albums they wrote a particular book to. For me, music turns the act of writing from a slog to a joy. It also seems to greatly improve the quality of my first drafts. But care is required to select the proper music.

My own experience is quite stark: on one novel I can still find the point where I turned on the music: chatper 11, just short of halfway through the book. Suddenly, it wasn’t a chore to get 90 minutes of writing in. While writing hardly became effortless, words did seem to flow and it was no longer necessary for me to set a time or word-count goal. Moreover, my readers told me early drafts “really picked up in the second half”, right where the music came in. It took many revisions to bring the first part up to the same quality as the “music scored” part. I’m not sure why it took me half a draft to figure out I should listen to music. Music, usually soundtracks, accompany me on all my walks, especially the ones devoted to planning out plots and characters.

The Last Samurai
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My writing music is almost exclusively soundtracks. There are many writers who listen to vocals but as a writer, I don’t need other people’s words in my head, I need my own words, thank-you-very-much. Classical music and other instrumentals can certainly work but it should be no surprise that soundtracks can work for a writer: their purpose is to provide emotional guides for the movie audience. Overtures served a similar purpose before movies and work just as well. However, just like a mismatched soundtrack can raise the critic’s ire by striking the wrong chord, the wrong soundtrack can cause problems. Writing a love scene while listening to battle music from Galdiator or Last of the Mohicans can be hard. Similarly, writing a dark scene of intrigue and betrayal to a poignant score can be challenging.

For my last project, a fantasy novel about a prince whose pursuit of a beautiful woman on a vendetta leads into the world of spirits, my two primary soundtracks were The Last Samurai and certains parts of the third Pirates of the Carribean. The last one may strike many as a strange choice but my boys were watching it one day while I was doing something else. Without the distractions of the whacky plot, it was clear the music was beuaitful and haunting, at least some of the tracks like the closing one where Will joins his true love only once a year. For that book, these two soundtracks had the right combination of haunting, mystical, and poignant with a touch of action where needed.

My current project is more harder edged and here I find Last of the Mohicans and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack a better companion.

What do you write to?