Tag Archives: noise

Guest Post: Your Music Versus Their Music

Let’s face it. You have musical tastes. Whether it was the music you grew up with, or the music that spoke to you, or the music that someone gave you on a mix tape, or the soundtrack to one of your favorite movies, we are a species and a culture that loves their tunes — and someone else’s tunes are at times ‘noise-that-you-don’t-like’.

Stop for a moment and think about what music lives on your iPod, WinAmp, or on your playlist for Pandora — or, if you’re not part of the iThingy generation, your CD collection, or (if you go that far back) vinyl and cassettes.

You’ll see that your music defines you, more often than not. Listening to a song can take you back to who you were and what you were doing when you listened to the song — maybe it’s about someone you dated, or classes, or maybe it was played at your graduation — perhaps by you on an instrument of your choice. Maybe it was the in-thing when you were growing up.

I trust you see where I’m going with this.

Your characters ought to have their own musical tastes. Maybe it’s the same as yours. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s an anthem for who they are as a person — and maybe the secret to their character is hidden in the lyrics.

Have you ever listened to a song’s lyrics and said, ‘this reminds me of a friend?’ And yet when you played it for them, they said, “I don’t get it?”

Realize that they aren’t wrong, and neither are you. What it is is that you, as the author-attributor (yes, I know that’s not a word), are seeing the person with your own filter that happens to be a song. And so your perception lends itself to music.

When you’re the author, though, you will almost always match the perfect song to your character, because they can’t help but agree with you — unless you have characters that defy initial definitions and ideas and strike off on their own – to with, marching to the beat of their own plotline.

One of the things that I gave the Novice Wordsmith as a challenge, more than once, was to say, “Take this song that I’m giving you. Look up the lyrics, listen to the song, and then apply it to a character of yours. Figure out what sort of situation they would be in for these lyrics to make sense. Go.”

I, personally, am somewhat musically driven; I’ve written whole short stories and parts of chapters while being inspired by music. It didn’t even have to have lyrics – sometimes it’s just a feeling. After all, how often does listening to the instrumental soundtrack to a movie conjure up memories of the movie itself in your head?

(And just to prove the point: “Everything is awesommmmme!” o/~)

You should try it. It’s a different way of seeing the words and getting some inspiration. Instead of having ‘writing music’ in the background to help set the mood for you, why not have the music take a more active part of the writing by choosing the song directly?

A bit of trivia here: My very first NaNoWriMo started out exactly this way. Lacking inspiration, I turned on the radio, and started writing using the first song that came on — Sting’s “If I Built This Fortress (Around Your Heart).” Suddenly I had a mental flash of a guy driving down the highway doing 75 in a convertible, and a character snapped into focus. I let the lyrics and that mental image drive the introduction, and decided that I’d take that journey with that character — wherever it went.

You can go either way with this, really: have the song write the character, or have the character pick the song that goes with them. It really is as easy as the character turning on the radio — and then deciding whether to hit Skip/Shuffle or listen and live.

Let me know how it goes for you, and whether you tuned in or tuned out.

The Melody that Carries the Story

Music and story-telling go together like wine and cheese. You can have one without the other, but putting them together makes for a delicious pairing.

It’s something you grow up with, mostly in movies, but have you ever been in the car, listening to the radio, or at a friend’s house, listening to one of their obscure CDs, and paused. “That’s brilliant!” maybe crossed your mind to say, because you couldn’t help but watch your mind explode with the images and scenes the concerto or the beat or the harmony of the singer’s voice was giving you.

“Writing for the music,” is a phrase that came up recently, and it’s a good way to describe it. When you hear the song and you get inspired to write a sex scene or a horror scene or a fight scene. Then, when the song is over, or the initial inspiration dries up, it’s over and gone and that’s all it takes, if you don’t get it out sooner.

It’s something I’m fighting with writing horror for November, because I always wrote for the song that I was listening to, which was dirty and dark, and, in the end, had no real purchase or true emotion to it. When I looked back at it later, it sounded hokey and wrong, nothing felt stable.

Then there are the songs that don’t overwhelm you temporarily like that, that strike on a deeper level and get your brain running in a different direction. It’s like the background music for a scene you can see clearly, and it only enhances it more, plus, instead of being fleeting, it’s always there like a good memory. The song instead reminds you of something, it makes you think instead of pulling you under with a burst of sound and sight.

On the other hand, music can tend to be a nuisance for those who don’t care for noise. Nothing sounds better than shutting the door and getting so much quiet that your thoughts are louder than your surroundings.

Then there are those who thrive with it. Who derive their focus and their motivation from a peculiar or particular song, something that catches their ear and helps them follow along. Having a melody in the background can improve attentiveness, the beat giving them something to focus on with their typing or writing.

It sets a mood, for the scene, and when it’s not what you’re writing for, it’s what you’re writing to, helping you feel the sensuality or the adrenaline or the cool air of the mountain.

Music can help you establish the mood and atmosphere, to better pull in the reader if you do it correctly. Trying to describe the feeling you have for the scene, using descriptive words that bring them right into the room or onto the cliff side or at the gala. It adds to the tools you can use to enrich the story.

It’s as useful a tool as any research or little bits of information that you want to implement.

As long as it’s not a bother to your writing, that is. Or somehow you hate music. Which, I don’t think I’ve found a person who does. There’s just a time and a place for everyone to enjoy it.

Another thing about music for me had been, through the years of roleplay, where friends would talk about the theme songs for their characters, based on songs they loved or the lyrics specifically, or maybe just the way it sounds. Have you ever had a song that just clicks for a character or a set of characters?

It’s such a wide thing to explore, where the possibilities seem endless. The same songs that help motivate you in physical activity (running, swimming, boxing, etc.), can help push along a thought or an idea that sparked as a result or before then.

All of this reminds me of something I’d heard back in “The Enjoyment of Music” in college. The Doctrine of Affections was something written in the Baroque period, a theory that music can evoke emotions involuntarily (Source). Which, to me, makes sense, especially looking back at it. It makes you feel something, a slow, deep tune makes you sad, and a high pitched, fast song makes you want to dance. Harder songs make you want to thrash, typically.

It lends to writing and action or lack thereof, and to what goes on around us, the visual and the audio and the taste and touch and smell. It holds on and doesn’t let go until the song is over. It’s why we need to hear it again, because it’s so provocative in its own way. To listen, over and over until we finally have everything that it’s given us down in a story or a chapter, in a character and their mannerisms, in the landscape, or the scene.

Music is as much a part of writing as it is a part of us, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Would you?

Clarity versus Calamity

Extremes can provide a lot of insight. When there’s nothing but chaos, you have strong thoughts that stand out among the rest, and when all is calm and the waters are steady, it’s hard to miss the one or two things that dare to stir up the waves.

Distractions are the fuel of chaos. They are loud noises from the television or family, surrounding you no matter what part of the building or house you’re in, they’re things happening outside, or a conversation in the other room that demands your attention because of how loud the person is on one end. They’re the thirty tabs you have open in your browser, or the game that’s been begging you to play it for the past few days, not to mention the little apps on your phone that you can’t ignore, or friends texting constantly…

Above all, it’s the noise in your head that you can’t turn down.

Some people thrive in the calamity. They can pick out an idea and run with it, letting the other noise help them to a speedy finish. A phrase that goes, “the story writes itself,” can happen in either the calmest time or the most chaotic. Tuning out the noise can either help or hurt, but either way, finding a way to hear your thoughts is always the same.

This happens more often than not lately for me, and my go-to fix for it has been to plug in music and drown out the noise, and force myself to focus, even if it means sacrificing attention to something else (family member, more often than not, only if it’s not inappropriate).

Clarity and calm, after being elusive, is a welcome retreat from the chaos that may have erupted around you. When the noise is so loud in your head that you can’t calm it down enough to focus, enough to sit and write something out, it’s hard to get much of anything done when it’s not mindless work.

In the middle of it all, you may find something easier to write. Your thoughts, some random, rapid-fire brainstorming, but nothing you have to force, something that may come easily. That little bit of saving grace among the pots banging and the thoughts clashing that goes on in your mind can come from simple things, typically.

Days like this are mercifully rare for me, but when they come, they wreck havoc. Distractions, however, are very healthy, though at work, writing is the distraction, especially when firemen run into the building because of the fire panel going off. For others, loudly singing roommates and bright, rather obnoxious and simple shows make it very difficult to get any focus or work done.

This post is late because of distractions and personal trouble writing, so thank you for bearing with me (even if you haven’t). Also, happy 50th post! Yay!

-The Novice Wordsmith