Lately I’ve been struck by how similar music is to writing. Both arts use a non-visual medium to create an emotion. And often, just like writing, music is meant to create movies in our mind for a do-it-yourself music video.
If you’ve ever watched a movie with the sound turned off, you know what a powerful effect music has on our emotions. The right piece of music can induce anything from dread to joy. Without the accompanying music, our visceral reactions and emotions to events playing out on the screen will often fall flat.
In writing, we create tension by contrasting what a character has with what they want. Contrasts create tension in music too. Even if you haven’t seen Tron: Legacy, check out the Daft Punk song Fall from the soundtrack and listen for the contrast between the rising pitch of the background noise and the stair-step falling pitch of the foreground notes. This song is filled with tension.
According the ultimate time-suck website, Cracked.com, music messes with our brains by changing how we perceive time, tapping into primal emotions like fear (check out the different versions of The Social Network opening credits), making us stronger, changing our drinking habits, and making us better communicators by training our brains to listen for intonations in people’s voices.
So how can writers take advantage of the similarities between music and writing? Can music help our muse?
- Use music to get in the mood. My friend Lynn Raye Harris listens to belly dance stations on Pandora while she’s writing a love scene. A Linkin Park station might be good for fight scenes. Share your suggestions for other good station/emotion combinations in the comments.
- Use music as a memory trigger. Need to write a heart-breaking scene of betrayal? Try playing the songs you moped to after a bad breakup and tap into those emotions. This can be a great way to write a happy scene when you’re upset or vice versa.
- Use music to identify a theme. Just like movies or characters can have a theme song (Darth Vader anyone?), so can our stories. If a song feels like it “fits” your story, analyze how it makes you feel. Maybe that will help you figure out the theme or emotional heart of your story or characters.
- Use music to inspire ideas. Reading the lyrics to songs might give your muse a concept to run with for a new scene or plot point. One song created a picture in my head that fit a character so perfectly I thought of a whole new subplot for a story.
- Use music to increase your focus. Listening to music with headphones or earbuds can help block out distractions around us. I’ve trained my brain to think of listening-to-music time as “work time”—no Twitter, email, or surfing when the music is playing.
- Use music to create a soundtrack for your story. Websites like Playlist.com or Grooveshark link to songs on the internet and let you play them in a certain order. I’ll often play the “soundtrack” for my story while I’m editing the matching scene.
How do you use music with your writing? Do you have suggestions for any Pandora stations to create certain moods (feel free to link to stations in your comment)? Has music ever given you story ideas? What are your favorite movie soundtracks? Have you created a soundtrack for your story?Pin It