Story Soundtracks

My first ever novel attempt was in middle school.  I started a few more in high school (the longest, I believe, is 18 pages) but I would always get bored and wander off in the middle, or frustrated by something, or what have you.  I took a few years off for my senior year and the beginning of college, and then began what I like to call my Adult Writing Career in 2003.

That being said, I didn’t really become a writer, someone who more or less was working on writing projects year round, until the beginning of 2006.  At that point I was in slogging through the middle of the first draft of a middle book on a trilogy and was in desperate need of inspiration, so I started joining writing communities on the internet.  And I came across the idea of listening to specific music when writing – of having a writing soundtrack.  I picked up songs from different places and tried them out (Paperback Writer by the Beatles continues to be a favorite) but nothing was really working, so I assumed I needed silence to write and moved on.

Flash forward to the beginning of 2007 when I discovered a new genre of music – symphonic metal.  I fell in love and started listening to it exclusively, and I discovered that, if I was listening to it while I was writing fantasy, it was a huge source of inspiration.  As time has gone on, I’ve discovered different genres work better for different projects.  Hard rock works better than symphonic metal if I’m writing grittier stories.  Eurodance is fantastic for editing. 

But then, when I was working on a project late in 2008, I discovered that not just the genre, but songs themselves occasionally jump out and match a story.  I found a few songs for that novel (most notably Velvet’s Mi Amore) that seemed to fit things perfectly, and sometimes playing them when I was stuck would help.

Now I’m working on a trilogy (and have been for awhile – on and off since 1998 – which was high school for those keeping track – and more seriously since 2004) and somehow I’ve ended up with an entire soundtrack.  Not just a few songs here or there, but ones specific to characters, ones specific to relationships, some specific to certain books.  I can’t really explain it – I don’t know if I listen closer to songs now when I hear them, or if it’s just an intuition thing – because often times a song I’ve heard a dozen times will suddenly click into place.  Whatever the reason though, it is fantastic.  By taking the songs in the soundtrack and playing them together or in different combinations, I actually get flashes of scenes.  I get dialogue and action and even the odd plot point.

I don’t know if it’s just this story because I’ve been working on it so long, or if it’s a skill I’ve been developing, but it’s definitely been a huge help.  Plotting out one book is hard enough – a trilogy with multiple arcs needs all the help it can get.

(For the curious – here’s a handful of songs from the soundtrack:
Within Temptation – What Have You Done Now
Dreamtale – Between Love and Hate
Skillet – Awake and Alive
Cascada – Can’t Stop the Rain
Linkin Park – What I’ve Done)

5 responses to this post.

  1. Yes-yes-yes!!! I’ve done this for years – I have to. I use itunes to assemble a soundtrack, I also burn a disc to take in the car (do a LOT of driving for my day job) and it helps me focus and visualize scenes I’m working on –

    Imagine how good I felt when I found out that Quentin Tarantino does this very thing when he’s working on a script – I think we’re in good company!


  2. Ooooh, yes. I always have music, and symphonic metal is awesome for fantasy. It is my “epic music.” I get “movie scene flashes,” as I call them, while listening to music. I can usually see something, or hear something, or the visuals of a place will form. They remind me of the previews before a movie. It’s really neat.



  3. Posted by Chris H. on 2010/09/28 at 11:13 PM

    Kind of makes me think of Coheed & Cambria. Cool progressive rock group. Their deal is that their entire discography is a concept. The first four albums tell an epic science fiction story planned out by the lead singer, Claudio Sanchez, and the latest album is a prequel, which was released concurrently with a novel of the same name, Year of the Black Rainbow.
    Claudio’s goal for the first four albums is a series of comics, of which at least a few volumes have been completed. The first volume I found a bit “meh”, but I do really enjoy the idea as a project; it was the first time I had ever seen a story span more than one album.
    Turns out the band The Dear Hunter is doing the same thing. Not sci-fi though. Still good music.

    Sorry, this really has nothing to do with your writing and is only tangentially related to your post, but it reminded me and I though it was cool. 🙂


  4. […] Playlists Actually what made me think of this blog.  I wrote a blog post earlier about how playlists can be beneficial for your writing.  For my trilogy, I have an entire […]


  5. This is something I’d like to do, but… I don’t like a wide enough range of music to make it work, in my opinion. I’ve tried to put things together, and it has never really fleshed out.


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