Music and My Writing Brain

I first learned the power of music in my writing while I was an undergrad in college. At that time, I was working on a story and for some unexplained reason I had to listen to The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky (This happens, now and then I get taken over by a certain “sound”). Anyway, so there I was in a writing class (it might have been a writing table, I don’t remember which) and I started to read the story… And I began to notice that the meter in my words mirrored Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.

Yes, without realizing it, my character’s speech was actually set to music. I had to fight to control my giggles, now imagining my character on toes as he was speaking. I’m sure my reading began to seem ridiculous to the other writers there, but at that moment I knew I had a problem… and, of course, I knew I was going to have to rewrite the entire speech.

Well, since then I have figured out the potential impact music can have on my writing. While I have not let the cadence of a song take over a story again, certain artists and music became part of the creation process for me around different works.  Sometimes I use them to influence a mood I am hoping to create, sometimes they are just simply the soundtrack for the “world” I am “living” in. Here are five examples:

Yoko Kanno and Cowboy Bebop

I wish I could be this cool. I wish I could do something in my life that would live up to this soundtrack following me around. But after all these years, I have to accept the fact that that ain’t going to happen. I am just Scott, I’m not a cool space bounty hunter, nor will I ever be.

Sigh.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, Cowboy Bebop is a very slick, very well-written groundbreaking anime TV series and Yoko’s music sets the mood and pace for every episode. The show would not have been as good without her music.

While the soundtracks are hard to find in our country, it is well worth the search. If I need to create a sense of cool in any story, my first instinct is to switch to her on my ipod. The coolness always comes along.

Belle and Sebastian

This may sound like a strange connection to anyone that knows Jane Austen or Belle and Sebastian, but forever these two will be linked for me. See, while I was writing A Jane Austen Daydream, the music of Belle and Sebastian set the mood for me. There was just something about this band from Glasgow that felt right to me.

The two albums I was drawn to the most were their first album (If You’re Feeling Sinister) and their more recent undertaking, The Life Pursuit. If I wanted to say something about Jane’s feelings and hopes, the first album was hit on shuffle; if it was a lighter or more active scene, I would jump to The Life Pursuit. It just clicked for me.

Someday, I hope (if the book gets published and popular), I can become friends with Stuart Murdoch and we can laugh over this with a beer. I assume they drink beer in Glasgow, right?

Damien Rice, O

This album sneaks up on you like a snake and before you know it, you are bitten. The first time I heard it, it was fine. Just fine, nothing remarkable. Many of the songs felt very simple to me… But that was before the snake lunged at my ankle. Soon the CD, had taken over my life and along with it, my writing.  (Dare I compare it to a volcano? Nah, that would be too easy.)

I was working on my book My Problem With Doors and this album became so important to the work, that I could not work on it without this CD on repeat. There is a romanticism about the world in Doors that seems to be mirrored in the Damien Rice album, and in both the storyteller has to come to grips with the actual reality.

By the time I was on my fourth draft my wife begged me to stop playing this album. True story; she begged me to stop.

By the way, does anyone know what happened to Damien Rice? Seriously, is he okay?

Nobuo Uematsu

If I want to work on a “Hero’s Journey” (Thanks Joseph Campbell). This composer is my go-to person. Who is he? Well, for those not in the know he is the soundtrack composer for most Final Fantasy games.  His compositions are so popular for the games that he has released numerous versions of the soundtracks (for example, for Final Fantasy VIII, you can get the actual soundtrack from the game, a symphonic version, or a version performed as a solo piano work). Heck, he has even toured the US with the music.

Whatever the case, unlike movie soundtracks which are more firmly established as part of a creation, this music is more “malleable” to me in my writing. If you are writing an adventure story or a fantasy, I recommend you check out some of his work.

Bing Crosby’s Christmas Music

Before you think I am crazy (and maybe I’ve already lost that battle), but one of my pet projects for the last 20 years has been a holiday screenplay.

Shocking, eh?

It’s currently titled Christmas Dreaming (we’ll see how long I get to keep that title before some generic, predictable, and random Hallmark movie steals it). Anyway, I first worked on it when I was twenty… and it was the middle of the summer. So who knows what the neighbors thought when they heard Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album streaming out of the second floor bedroom of my parents’ house.

The fact is Bing felt right for this screenplay, and over the years, as I have returned again and again to this story (like one would return to old friends), Bing comes along with me; probably sitting behind me with a pipe is how I imagined it (I also imagine that he would’ve called me “Scottie boy.”). The funny thing is in early drafts I even wrote him in, thinking he could be computer generated into a scene. He was that engrained into the makeup of the tale.

If forced to answer my favorite Christmas music is actually Nat King Cole. Heck, I think his performance of “The Christmas Song” from his The Christmas Song album to be one of the most perfect recordings of all time. I’ll even go a step farther and say that when I am on my deathbed if asked what I would like to listen to, that will be the first (or, good grief!, last) recording I mention.

I just can’t write to Nat (it’s too perfect), and for some unexplained reason, Bing just felt more at home with this story. Whatever the case, it’s a good script; no, I’m serious it IS a good holiday story (and you know how rare those are). Heck, its early drafts were finalists in two different national competitions, and, as I said, they were early drafts. Yeah, it rocks. Christmas rocks…

Wow, that sounded lame.

The funny thing looking over this little article is the music and artists I can NOT mention. For example, I can’t write to The Beatles. I am a huge Beatles fan, but I can’t create when they are on. It is too much already there in the music.

It’s all about mood, feeling… I wish I could put my finger on it, explain it right, but I can’t. It’s something to do with the brain and how it is wired around creativity, I can say that. Also, if you are writing a story and you feel like you have hit a brick wall, change the music you are listening to, I have found that inspiration can be as near as itunes.

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard | Five Things I Am Into Right Now, November 2014

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