When in doubt, turn on the music

Music affects all of us. Whether you’re young or old, music plays with your emotions, tugging them this way and that to dance to the beat. Advertisers use this to their advantage, playing familiar tunes through the speakers at supermarkets to influence shoppers to stay longer. Current dance hits draw in the partying crowds at nightclubs and the lone trumpet or bagpipe at a war memorial perfectly encapsulates the sensations a person will feel at seeing the sacrifices of their fellow man. Everyone pictures a shark when the Jaws theme song plays and the sight of a man wearing a hat, holding a whip is remembered at the first few notes of Indiana Jones.

What then, of books? How does the author get across what they want the reader to feel without the easy manipulation of music?

Why, by listening to music while they write. I recently compiled a Writing playlist that features songs that make me feel upset, happy or excited, amongst other emotions. I found that it was much easier to convey the emotions I wanted in a scene when I felt the same way whilst writing it. In the scene where a character dies, I played ‘The North Remembers’ by Ramin Djawadi as composed for Game of Thrones. If I had been listening to ‘Baby Hit Me One More Time’, I don’t think that scene would come out as well. When I needed to feel excited I played ‘I Love It’ by Icona Pop (feat. Charli XCX). The dialogue in that scene came out snappy as a result. It helped me to enter the character when I was feeling what she was feeling.

We might not be able to play music in the background as our reader makes their way through our book, but we can make sure that the emotions are still there, printed in ink what the author felt at the time. And that’s kinda cool.

10 thoughts on “When in doubt, turn on the music

  1. I listen to two steps from hell when I need to write battle scenes in my stories. Music really does influence that extra flavor to a story. I sometimes watch epic videos on YouTube to capture a glimpse. Of what I’m looking for. Awesome post Kate!


    • I recently discovered two steps from hell on Pandora. I haven’t as yet needed to write any scenes that intense but it will definitely be going on the playlist when I get to that stage. I hadn’t thought of looking at Youtube, that’s a good idea. I do browse Deviantart for inspiration though. It helps with description as well. Thanks!


  2. I have a love/hate relationship with music when I’m writing. Sometimes I find it distracting and I will spend more time switching songs than writing. This is because listening to a particular band or genre messes with my mood and makes it hard for me to focus on writing outside of that mood.

    Lately, however I have found myself turning on Pandora while I write (the online radio site). I have one station in particular that I’ve titled Omni and it plays every genre of music you can think of (aside from country which I only listen to when I’m with family or friends who enjoy it). This way I do not find myself trapped by a particular mood because the music switches from Metallica, to Tiger Army, and then to Frank Sinatra or Bliss N’ Eso.

    I do this because while listening to a particular genre can distract me, I find utter silence to be just as distracting when I’m writing so I need some sort of background noise (and television is even MORE distracting).

    One thing I have recently done though is to create a playlist for a particular character. Even if no such music exists in their world, I try to imagine what sort of music they would enjoy if they existed in our world. As a result, I have discovered that various styles of punk rock and even a little bit of hip-hop fits very well in a series of space opera shorts I’ve been working on.


    • Creating a playlist for each character is a good idea. I might see if that helps me. I can’t listen to lots of music with vocals, because I find myself overly distracted by them. Sometimes I’ve found myself writing the lyrics. I can only listen to songs with vocals that many times that the vocals fade into the background, almost like I’m just listening to the notes of the vocals rather then the words.

      I agree television is the worst. I have my own study so don’t need to worry about the tellie distracting me. I discovered Pandora not so long ago and it’s been amazing. I’ve discovered so many more instrumentals that help my writing through it. A writer’s best friend!

      Space opera shorts? Sounds intriguing… Post any online?


      • I haven’t posted any of them online yet but I’m definitely going to. I’m sorry to say that in all of the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never finished anything I’ve written (or even truly started it). That is a big part of why I started FWO so that I can challenge myself with deadlines and force myself to finish what I write. But I feel like I’m making some good progress. I even have an amazing artist working on one of my favorite characters (he’s a part of an alien species I created and so having a picture of him is kind if important to me).


      • Having some pressure on you sometimes does help. I find I need to set a schedule in order to finish a story. I make myself sit down everyday and write for at least an hour, even if what comes out is total rubbish. The stories come out a lot faster that way. That’s cool, I wish I knew some good artists – well I do, but I don’t want to ask them to, a bit self-conscious. Well, I’ll be excited to read them once you’ve put them up 🙂


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