Music and Writing



     One of the key elements of the way in which I write is that I must have music playing. Quiet – as in dead silence – intrudes on my consciousness. I write best when I have sound that helps evoke emotions in me, so that I can try to evoke emotion in my words.

     This has naturally evolved into a habit of constructing a "soundtrack" for my books as I go along. In many cases the soundtrack becomes quite detailed, with a dozen or even two dozen tracks each representing a character, piece of the setting, or event. This helps me keep the mood and "flavor" of the world, or part of the world, that I'm working on fresh in my mind, anchors me in a way to the story I'm telling, the locale I'm telling it in, and the characters I'm telling it with. 

     This isn't a unique thing; a lot of other authors have mentioned they do similar things from time to time. I have noticed that the type of music varies rather drastically.

     In my case, it has to be instrumental music, or at least music without voices speaking a language I understand. If I hear voices talking in words I understand, it starts to distract me from the words I'm trying to write. Thus, essentially no songs written or sung in English. There is an occasional exception (Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero", for instance, was a significant piece in composing Stuff of Legend), but for the most part the music can't obtrude its own words into my consciousness.

     The music – in general – also has to have positive emotion in it in some sense. Even the villanous themes need something that's powerful and dramatic. I am, quite openly, a melodrama addict. Screaming death metal or similar stuff leaves me utterly cold; I hear no glory or victory in some guy shrieking half-understood words amid a bunch of whining guitars. Similarly, even if the words weren't in English, a lot of emo-goth music fails to move me.

     So, most of my music comes from orchestral sources, and – because such music is quite deliberately constructed to produce powerful emotional reactions – often from movie and TV soundtracks. There are other good sources, such as classical music (Beethoven's Ninth, Holst's Jupiter, etc.), but in terms of proportion of my library, soundtracks of one sort or another make up the majority of my listening material.

     Music goes far beyond maintaining my connection and mood, however. Sometimes it writes the music. Sometimes a piece of music catches my attention when I'm trying to figure out a particular scene, a particular character, and the music's pattern and thrust builds the remainder up in my mind, until it's almost impossible for me to imagine the scene without that music.

For example, the scene I call "DuQuesne's Victory" in Grand Central Arena was born from the piece of music I associate it with: "Trigger Situation" from Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus. I knew very roughly what had to happen, but the details – how I depicted DuQuesne unleashing himself, the sequence of events in the combat and how it ended, were all summoned from my mind on repeated listenings to that piece of music.

The same thing is true in my soon-to-be-published Oz novel, Polychrome. The setup for and subsequent grand conflict at the end of the novel was laid out, in a very general sense, in my head, but it wasn't until my brain seized upon two pieces of music that I suddenly found the details emerging in my head: "The Greatest Story Never Told" from Doctor Who, and "Stigmata", from Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis.

Another example is the beginning of the final battle in my yet-to-be-completed trilogy Demons of the Past. The details of that confrontation, where all of the plots and counterplots of all three books finally collide and are resolved, revealing how the endgame of this gargantuan galaxy-spanning chess match will be resolved, became detailed and solidified for me when I listened to a piece whose title I can't find a good translation to; Google translates the Kanji as "Victory of the Minutest Care" or, as Chinese, "Victory of Stigmata", but it is the theme played in the Yuu Yuu Hakusho: Poltergeist Report movie when "The four spirits are as one" and they proceed to whip the CRAP out of the big bad who formerly totally outmatched them.

This kind of thing is tremendously important to me when writing. I need to have clear, and awesome, images in my head that I'm looking forward to, things I want badly to actually turn into words on the page. Knowing what "Crowning Moment of Awesome" I am working towards will pull me through momentary attacks of doubt, exhaustion, or confusion, provide a beacon for me to use in guiding myself through the plot. Where's my destination? THERE! Can I get there by going this way? … no. How about this way? … nope, not that one. How about like this? … Yes! That's it!

When I can, I post these soundtracks, but there's a maintenance problem: most such pieces of music are under SOMEONE's copyrights, and so they get taken down, and I end up with broken links. It's a shame in a way; I encourage people to BUY the music I use, when possible (I wish there was a simple way to link to music on iTunes as an associate, the way I can with Amazon).

Music can also fit to the scene after I write it. I wrote the first version of Kyri's confrontation with Myrionar many years before Doctor Who got its rebirth in 2005, but when I was working on the final version, I came to realize that the Season Four theme for The Doctor was exactly what I wanted to symbolize that scene. It works perfectly, evoking the quiet sense of loss and isolation,and then the sudden triumphal power of the answer that Kyri Vantage gets.

Music, of course, is flexible; it doesn't have to be chained to a single set of events. Since I use a lot of soundtracks, this is obvious; this music starts out with a strong and very direct association with the events of the movie or TV series from which it comes, and I am naturally repurposing it when I start thinking of it as a theme for something I'm writing. The theme "Thor Kills the Destroyer" from the movie Thor has an obvious – and totally awesome – actual scene associated with it. But it also, in my mind, became the perfect piece of music to serve as Legend's finale against his enemy Ragnarok in Stuff of Legend.

Even within my own writing the same piece of music can do double duty; the Season 4 Doctor's Theme that became symbolic of Kyri Vantage's confrontation with her god is also inextricably part of Polychrome, as I used the same piece of music when writing the sequence in which Eric Medon must discover a "beauty such as she has never known" to Polychrome, or fail Faerie in the very day he has first learned of it.

What music inspires you? Does any resonate for you in my own stories?

Let me know, if you would!





Your comments or questions welcomed!