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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Music: Another Tool in the Writer’s Tool Box

I love music! As a baby I sat on the floor and twisted, “dancing” to the music before I could walk. At one time I played both flute and piano and enjoyed listening to classical music while ballet dancing en pointe. (It’s amazing what we can do when we’re young!) Now I use music as a tool in my writer’s toolbox.

If I need help with pacing, I pick a song that represents the speed at which I am trying to write. Once, when I attempted to write an energetic and frenetic scene, it just wasn’t working. I tried drinking caffeine for an energy boost to force the pacing, but it became jagged with big swings instead of steady with natural ups and downs. Frustrated, I listened to different types of music such as disco, rock and rap and finally found a British New Wave song. I played it numerous times writing to match its rhythm.

For a scene in a contemporary mystery that took place on a runway filled with fierce, strutting models wearing luxe clothing, I wanted the tone to have an edgy, contemporary feeling. I used Block Rockin’ Beats by the Chemical Brothers with its pounding electronic rhythm to inspire me. (After finishing, I took ibuprofen and a nap.)

Music helps me to get into a specific emotional state, too. Some days my mood affects what I’m writing and it’s important to stay with the mood of the story, not how I’m feeling at the moment. When I want to write a happy scene but am in a bad mood, I choose upbeat music that makes me smile or that brings back a fun memory. I’ve heard that a few writers listen to Barry White while crafting a love scene to get into that emotional state.

Similarly, I use music to maintain continuity. When I want to match the tone and mood of something I wrote the previous day, I make a note of the songs and play them the next day.

Also, listening to music that feels like my character’s essence helps me write more believable dialogue. When I strive to write a strong female voice I might listen to Joss Stone, Jill Scott or Janelle Monáe. For a superficial young male voice I play songs like Runaway Baby by Bruno Mars.

Sometimes music can be more effective than talking. Singer Aretha Franklin sang her way out of receiving a parking ticket. She was dining with friends in New York City when she saw an officer ticketing her car. So, Ms. Franklin serenaded the meter maid then autographed an envelope instead of a ticket.

It can also save lives. According to the BBC, in 2005 a nine year old English boy emerged from a coma after his mother played a song by his favorite band, Green Day. The song was American Idiot.

Recently, I learned that some authors share their music playlists so readers can feel a book’s intended mood. Fans enjoy it since it adds another dimension to a book. (I know--one more thing for writers to do.)

In the interest of sharing, here is my playlist while writing this blog:

I Love Music – The O’Jays
Don’t Stop the Music – Yarbrough & Peoples
Music – The Beautiful Girls
I’ve Got the Music in Me – Kiki Dee Band

Do you listen to music while you write? Do you use it to help you write?


Jim Jackson said...

I read Stephen King writes while listening to Rock. I can't do that. If I use music at all, I write to either classical or "new age." I don't want words coming in my ears to compete with those I'm trying to organize into a story. Most often I write in quiet.

I have to also say your post made me feel ancient: I didn't recognize any of the artists or songs!

So I'm heading back to my rocking chair, pulling a buffalo rug over my lap and setting out tea and cookies for the grim reaper.

~ Jim

Kara Cerise said...

That's a good point about writing in silence or while listening to instrumental music so the lyrics don't compete with words on the page. I do prefer silence when I'm editing.

I have three teen nieces, Jim, so I am exposed to a variety of music...sometimes at loud decibel levels.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Don't feel bad, Jim! I didn't recognize any of them, either.

I also have to have silence--or at most, baroque classical music. Sometimes, if there's singing in a foreign language I don't know, I can handle that. But no music with lyrics while I'm trying to think up words myself.

E. B. Davis said...

I must have silence when I work. But, music does affect my moods in positive and negative ways, which I monitor because I can feel "off" if I listen to the wrong music. I've never knowingly changed my mood by listening to music to "program" myself. I think for settings and tone that method might work, but I try to write through my POV, and I'm afraid that music would block that voice in my head.

Warren Bull said...

Same as most with me. Unless it is elevator music, which is just annoying, I listen to the words and try to pick out the instruments playing. Music is great at other times though.

Alyx Morgan said...

I, too, need instrumental music (if any) when I write, because I focus so much on lyrics that it messes me up. Silence is very good for me, too, but it's hard to come by where I live. I've just started going to the library to write, though, & that's WONDERFUL!

Jim & Linda, I'm guessing you two would know The O'Jays from their big hit "Love Train" in the 70s, & I'm sure you'd also know "I Got The Music In Me" if you heard it. The other two, I can't help you with.

Kara Cerise said...

I think baroque classical music is beautiful, Linda. I wouldn’t be able to write to it but I do enjoy listening while I’m reading.

Kara Cerise said...

E.B., I think the Olympic athletes agree with you about using music to affect mood. While watching swimming trials last night I learned that they wear large headphones to listen to music before competing to get into “the zone”.

Kara Cerise said...

I agree that elevator music is annoying, Warren. Does anyone enjoy it?

Kara Cerise said...

The library sounds like a great place to work without interruption, Alyx. No phones ringing or doorbells buzzing. Nice!

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