Music and Writing

(Yes, another opinion piece, but this time it’s more than just my personal tastes.)

I’ll just go ahead and say it. Music is awesome. It’s a common medium for human interaction and the expression of ideas, and has been for thousands of years. There are many parallels between poetry and song lyrics, rhyme, rhythm, message, etc. I love and embrace both arts in my daily life.

But just as music is exhilarating entertainment and a great distraction from the doldrums, it is also a useful tool for crafting prose and poetry. More often than not, it is crucial to be able to articulate a particular feeling of a character, perhaps their immense conflict over loyalty to their fellow warriors or to their values, or something as simple as joy over their promotion. Obviously, we all have ideas of how these things would feel, and hopefully we’d have personal experience with the happier ones. There is, however, a way to experience these feelings and translate them into palpable descriptions.

That’s right, music! How many times has Frank Sinatra’s “Drinking Again” thrown me into such a deep gloom that I have to listen to the upbeat “Cliffs of Dover” just to salvage my mood from depression? Too many times to count, but this is precisely the point. Music allows me to experience these emotions as my own, and all the thoughts and actions that coincide with them. This makes your descriptions all the more vivid when it comes time to describe your character’s failure, success, conflict, etc.

Some particularly good selections include soundtracks, not only for their length and immersion but also for the varied content, meant to match the tone of the plot at that particular point. For instance, I turned to the “Harvey Dent Suite” to develop a character in one of my pieces. Having been betrayed and disfigured by his own police officers, the District Attorney of The Dark Knight launches on a murderous spree of revenge. The tragic pain and conflict in this fall from grace are captured powerfully in this music, helping me to envision the thoughts of my own betrayed and vilified character.

These arenas also aid in capturing the mood of events within your story. For instance, say the army of noble knights is riding brazenly through the ranks of the invading barbarians. The glory and triumph of the moment can be felt in the “Ride of the Rohirrim” making these feelings all the more tangible to you, and in turn, the reader. I recommend the Lord of the Rings soundtracks as decent tracks for anyone to find inspiration (as previously endorsed by Ryan Lanz).

But, more often than not, I use music as a way just to keep myself focused. Living in a dorm is rarely peaceful. There is nothing better than Creedence Clearwater Revival blaring into my ears to ward off outside distractions and stay immersed in the world I’m sculpting. For these purposes, choose songs you’ve heard a thousand times before, songs you know so well you don’t even notice when they’ve stopped (sometimes they keep playing in my head, it’s trippy). The familiar serves to block out external noise while providing white noise, as in sounds that don’t distract you.

I realized that perhaps I talk a bit too much about myself, that there are more writers out there than myself (much better ones too). This is my way of giving back, offering ways to better focus our talents, whether it be to emulate our characters’ emotions all the way to staying on task and blocking outside stimuli. If only one other person finds this helpful, than I will be happy knowing I did some good.

Use music in a different way than those detailed above? Have different songs that you utilize? I’m always looking for suggestions.


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