Using Music when Writing

I’ve been a musician for most of life, playing piano and flute, pursuing both in university, hoping to make performance my career. That didn’t work out so well when I discovered that my dream of playing in the Vienna Philharmonic meant I’d have to spend 8 hours a day practicing. When would I have had the time to write? I also get bored easily so dedicating so many hours to one activity wasn’t going to work. Even though I’ve abandoned my dreams of fame and fortune as a concert flutist, I couldn’t live without music, especially now as a writer.

Music as Inspiration

Music often serves as my muse. Sometimes it’s the lyrics that get me, conjuring a certain emotion or even a whole scene in my head that plays out like a movie, which I inevitably end up incorporating into a story. I often seek inspiration from visual sources, trawling through the deviantART archives, hoping to stumble upon something that speaks to me. Music videos prove doubly rich sources of inspiration, combining both visual and auditory stimulus, telling a story and simultaneously inspiring another one in my head. Here’s one of my most recent finds and I can’t wait to write the story these visuals are inspiring…

The opening credits from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.


Music as Character

When writing, I try to find songs that best represent my characters. This doesn’t necessarily have to match the character’s individual musical tastes, but should describe their personality and their emotional/psychological make-up. I list these songs on the character sheets or sometimes make mini playlists for each character that I can listen to before writing. It helps get me into that ‘zone.’ I also try to find songs that represent character interactions such as love/hate songs or songs about friendship etc. for the various relationships in my story.

Here’s the song I thought best represented my character Zia in Dragon’s Teeth. “Pardon Me” by Incubus


Music as Novel Soundtrack

I have a writing playlist consisting mostly of movie soundtracks and ambient instrumental bands. From that large playlist, I then select certain tracks that best represent the mood or emotion I’m trying to capture in a certain scene. In this way, I have a constant soundtrack that suits what I’m writing. Daughter of the Nether (2012 ABNA quarterfinalist) was written to the X-Men: First Class soundtrack because I needed high octane music for high energy action scenes. My current WIP is being written almost entirely to the instrumental band Explosions in the Sky, because it’s a quieter book that needs a gentler soundtrack.

One of my favourites, listened to on repeat while writing Daughter of the Nether. “Sublift” from X-Men: First Class soundtrack

Music is a powerful writing tool that can be used to enhance the depth of characters and create the ambiance of individual scenes or set the tone for a whole book.

How do you use music in your everyday life?

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