Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Music As A Writing Partner

I adore the way different art forms compliment each other in the creative world. As a designer I have to see a scene visually in my head as I write it in order to understand the lines, textures, and colors of characters, settings, and emotions. Another beloved partner in my writing process is music.

How do I use music?

A LESSON IN CONCISE STORYTELLING: “Augie Nieto,” by Five For Fighting and Taylor Swift’s, “Love Story,” each tell a complete tale in under four minutes apiece.  Often for me, a line in a song will give me an “Ah ha!” moment for a character or action. Maybe we should start singing our loglines.

THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG: It is great fun to find a specific song to convey the emotions between two characters in love. “Far Away,” by Nickelback, and “Falling In,” by Lifehouse are currently turning my characters to mush in different stories. Breakup songs can be cool as well. “Not Meant To Be,” by Theory of a Deadman hits that note.

FEEL THE BEAT: I like to assign each chapter of my MS a song that matches its emotional context, action, or intention. Listening to the playlist can take you on an auditory journey though your story. You hear beats, builds, tension, conflict, joy, sorrow, and resolution. The playlist supplies a textural soundscape that hopefully matches your character and story arcs. When I have trouble finding a piece of music to compliment a chapter, more often than not, it’s the chapter that has issues.

MIX IT UP: When you are finding musical matches for your stories it is important to tap into multiple genres. I have never heard a more beautiful song than the classical piece, “Siegfried Idyll” by Wagner. “Stand” by Rascal Flats and “Live Like You Were Dying,” by Tim McGraw are fantastic country songs that scream to be character anthems.

How do you use music in your writing process?

Note: The links will take you to iTunes so you can taste snippets of these super songs.


  1. I LOVE this, Leslie!!! Music is important to me too when writing. I don't break it down by chapter, though that's a good idea. I only take the ones that hit me with that BAM that's my character or that's this story. Usually character actually...

  2. I almost always have a few select albums and/or songs by Switchfoot or Relient K playing when I write. Definitely helps to put my brain in the writing mode.

  3. I love attaching certain songs to a manuscript. Then every time I hear that song, I think of my characters, and what they've gone through. I've never thought of doing a song for each chapter though. What a cool idea!

  4. Lisa - When a song fits a story it's magic.

    Nathan - Welcome to the blog. Going to download me some Switchfoot and Relient K right now. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Julie - The chapter playlist is a blast. It's wild how much it helps you feel your writing.

  5. I think I'm the weird one here.
    I love music so much, that I can't hear it while I write, or when I think about the plot. I get so absorbed in the lyrics that I kind of space out. lol.

  6. I create a playlist or each story. The songs reflect what I think the characters love or are feeling during a particular moment within the story.

  7. I couldn't write a word without music.

    I have specific songs for each short story and of course a "soundtrack" for each novel.

  8. Music doesn't play a role in my writing. I'm easily distracted, so I can't listen to it while writing. I really should listen to the lyrics like a lot of people. Wow, all the plot ideas I could come up with. :D

  9. I can listen to music when writing the first draft. With the right mix of songs, it fades into the background and gets me pumped up and in the right emotional mood.

  10. Wow! Great songs. :)

    Many times my writing has been inspired by music. I tend to listen to classical cds when I write, such as YoYo Ma's gorgeous cello rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee. It evokes emotions from the feel of the music rather than from words. If I listen to vocals while writing, I find myself writing what they're singing. LOL

    Leslie, I want to thank you for your kind congratulations in 100wrongs' 100 word contest. I appreciate the 'wave'. :)


  11. Monica - I promise to keep my volume down if we're ever writing in the same place.

    Kris - I do the same thing. Sometimes it tells me things about character or story that I haven't voiced yet.

    Lee- I have to have my music, too. It gets the blood and creative juices flowing.

    Stina - I usually focus on lyrics during what I like to call my "writing walks" where I am walking and sorting out story/character issues with the help of endorphins.

    Laura - I love that "in the zone" feeling when the music is relegated to the background, but still inspires.

    C.E. - I am cracking up. A little lyric borrowing now and then never hurt as long as you give it back.

  12. It's so enriching to think of characters, settings, and emotions having texture, color, and line. What a beautiful perspective. So glad you shared it.

  13. Very, very cool!!

    I'm a little embarrassed to admit that while music is hugely important to me, I just stick my iTunes on shuffle and write! :)

  14. Lacie - Thank you for stopping in. I'm glad you enjoyed looking at writing through a different filter.

    Jemi - I LOVE shuffle songs. Then I don't have to make a decision.

  15. I am alternately inspired and distracted my music when I write. When I'm really in a groove, I don't hear it anymore.

  16. I would say music is a huge part of my writing, though I can't listen to it at all while I'm writing. It is the before and after moments of writing that I need to the music to help me imagine the characters do what I've written and show me what they will do next. It helps at least.

    Have you started back to school yet Leslie? Good luck with your students this year:)

  17. Lydia - The groove is a hip place to be.

    Deana - I start back to school Wed. the 17th. Bye-Bye summer. How about you? I hope you get a rockin' class.

  18. I'm a little weird, but I have to have silence while I'm writing. However, when I'm editing I love to listen to music. It gives me the distance I need to catch grammar and punctuation errors. :)