Wanna Hear My Theme Song?

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.

Image courtesy of Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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?

About Kimberly Packard

Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. She began visiting her spot on the shelves at libraries and bookstores at a young age, gazing between the Os and the Qs. Kimberly received a degree in journalism from the University of North Texas, and has worked in public relations and communications for nearly 20 years. When she isn’t writing, she can be found rollerblading, doing a poor imitation of yoga or curled up with a book. She resides in North Texas with her husband Colby, Oliver the cat and a 75-pound lap dog named Charlie. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors.
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7 Responses to Wanna Hear My Theme Song?

  1. taureanw says:

    I’m the same way. I use music to influence my mood which just so happens to help me shape the mood in the scene I am writing.

    One of my passion projects is a sci-fi(y) story that is told in four parts. Part 1 is on paper while the rest are still in my noggin. Yet for each part I have a very particular song as the theme of the story. Most are instrumental and I visualize the epps & flows as the various twists and turns in the story. :-p

  2. Frank Bishop says:

    I am one of those writers that listens to music while I write too. I usually pick a song or album, put it on repeat, and turn it up LOUD. Each story and scene has it’s own song that I use to articulate my creative madness. I also use magic to block out the static in my mind so I can focus on the story, if that makes any sense?

    For me it all depends. For my scifi story I listen to a lot of KMFDM and NIN, While in my fantasy story I listened a lot to Zero 7 and Orbital. It changes and will take a weird twist where I will listen to some blues for a fight scene. Doesn’t make sense to me either, but it is how it works.
    Sometimes the song influences the story. The song makes the story fuse and pop into existence.
    Regardless, music is pivotal.

    • That makes sense, Frank. I suddenly found myself more and more drawn to Texas country music, and it’s because that’s the perfect backdrop to what I’m writing. I’m sure if I ever switched over to YA, I’d listen to to whatever the cool kids are listening to.

  3. I’ve read your WIP’s and your voice is smooth and fluid, so the music must be helping you! I hadn’t thought of using a specific song for each character, and the more I think about it after your post, the more sense it makes.
    Depending on the scene I’m writing, I’ll just turn on a station on my Pandora (either computer or iPhone) and just let it run. But maybe that’s not nearly as effective as your routine.
    Great post!

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