I’ve seen a lot of recent chatter in the writing community about listening to music while writing. It makes sense to do that, really. One art form fueling another. But, I wonder if while in the fictive dream do you actually hear the music or does it influence what you’ve written – for better or worse.
When my husband and I lived in our one-bedroom condo, plugging my earphones into my computer to write was par for the course in order for me to drown out the soporific golf voices. Unfortunately, the album I was obsessed with was a really heart-wrenching break-up album – which was great for the one break-up scene in my book, not so great for the rest of it.
Now that we have a house and I have a dedicated place for writing far away from the TV and the cheering/jeering of my husband, I can fully enter the fictive dream without needing to block out any sounds. But, that doesn’t mean that music has no place in my literary journey – music both helps me prepare to get into the story as well as help me get to know my characters.
Like an athlete preparing for a game, I listen to music to get into the zone. My WIP takes place in southwest Texas/northern Mexico. If you haven’t been there, it’s a dusty, hot, desert and the heat can be so intense that taking a deep breath can feel somewhat like taking a drag on a cigarette. With these images and the effect the locale has on my characters rolling through my head, I find myself drawn to Ryan Bingham, a great singer-songwriter from New Mexico/West Texas whose husky voice and gritty songs epitomize the setting of my story. Just a few tracks of his Mescalito CD and I’m instantly there. Is using his music to catapult me into my story cheating? Maybe, but how is that different than running to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to keep my pace up?
As I mentioned, I also use music to get to know my characters better. Before Ally McBeal boogied to her theme song in a short skirt with a dancing baby, I embraced the idea of theme songs. They were mostly the teen-angst ridden anthems for freedom while preserving the carefree days of youth – Talk Talk’s “It’s my Life” and Alphaville’s “Forever Young.” I use the notion that everyone has a theme song – one that changes as we grow – to add dimension to my characters.
For example, last year when I was finishing the re-write of Phoenix, a song by British R&B singer VV Brown caught my ear. It’s called “Shark in the Water” and struck me as the perfect anthem for my main character Amanda. It’s a great song, full of empowerment but also vulnerability of knowing someone might be out to get you – exactly what Mandy had to deal with. For David, another main character and the love interest of Amanda, his theme song is “Like a Liar,” by The Orbans, a local band from Fort Worth. It’s a break-up song about a guy realizing the woman he loved(s) is a liar. Exactly what David continues to deal with in the follow up story.
When I write, I feel like I’m transcribing the movie playing in my head. While I may not actively listen to music, the soundtrack is running through the back of my mind. The songs place me in the setting or give heat to already alive characters. Or, maybe (hopefully) it gives my prose a lyrical touch.
Everyone has a theme song – even our characters. What’s yours?