When it comes to writing and getting my brain track, I find that just one song can trigger a rush of creativity. I’ve posted before about great playlists and why I love making them, but I haven’t actually walked through my process.
My work-in-progress is a novella loosely titled The Gorgophones. It’s my version of an action rom-com, so I need a mix of songs that are (1) adorable and (2) action-y.
The first thing I look for is one or two foundational songs for everything to revolve around. The work-in-progress I’m currently querying uses Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive as a foundation, while my newer manuscript focuses both on the acoustic/deconstructed version of Ke$ha’s Blow* and on X Ambassadors’ Renegades.
Pandora and Spotify come in handy when you’re trying to match song styles. Every time a new song comes on, I ask myself if it would fit playing in the background of over half of the story. If the answer is yes, I add it to the list. The most difficult hurdle I run into is not filling every playlist with songs by the same four bands**.
Some songs (like Brick + Mortar’s Hollow Tune below) aren’t perfect in terms of musical style, but I love the message of the lyrics too much to give up the song. About 75% of the time, I read lyrics of unfamiliar songs before I actually listen to them—I find that the mood of the words doesn’t always match the music and vice versa. Mixing up my approach allows me to separate what I want the music to say and what it actually communicates.
These three songs evoke the emotions I’m trying to develop in the story:Castle by HalseyStay with Me by Sam SmithHollow Tune by Brick + Mortar
You can also use film scores to create foundational moods, but I find that some tracks (such as anything John Williams did on the first Harry Potter movies) are too connected to the source material to feel right in my book playlist. My rule of thumb? Hans Zimmer is magic and fits just about anywhere.
After I’ve built the atmosphere, I pick music that represents my main character’s perspectives. Rona, the narrator, gets more songs than Lief, her love interest. For the lovey-dovey parts, I imagine that my couple is singing the song to the other person (adorable, I know). It’s just another way to get in their heads and find desires and emotions I didn’t even know they had***.
Rona’s songs:Get Home by BastilleDon’t Let Me Down by The Chainsmokers (ft. Daya)Cosmic Love by Florence + the MachineQuelqu’un m’a dit by Carla BruniLief’s songs:I Won’t Give Up by Jason MrazShut Up and Dance by Walk the MoonGo Big or Go Home by American Authors
After I have all my songs (usually 20 give or take), I arrange them according to mood. It’s a lot like pacing the novel—you have to be aware of how songs begin and end so that each flows into the next. Sometimes after I organize the lot and listen to it, I realize that a couple of songs were rubbish decisions and need replacing. And sometimes, I get ideas from beta readers that I have to fit in my existing playlist order.
I still need ten or fifteen tracks to fill out my list—what would you add?
Michelle’s favorite part of any art museum is the room filled with marble statues.
*I literally never would’ve thought of this one on my own—I got the suggestion from a beta reader, was initially in denial that anything by Ke$ha could represent a theme in my work, and then (after reading the lyrics and actually listening to the song) repented of my prejudice. I may or may not have the entire song memorized now.
**Imagine Dragons, Bastille, American Authors, Florence + the Machine.
***Other writers are certainly familiar with this occurrence—sometimes your characters are thinking something you had NO IDEA was even a thing.