Friday, September 2, 2022

Rockin' (or Jazzin' or Rappin') Out: Why a Playlist for Your Book Can Help You Write It

Most writers know about free writing. It can literally "free" the random word associations inside your linear brain. Some use it as a warm-up before launching a writing session. Free writing allows whatever is blocking the creative pipeline to free up--or so I've found.

In the same way, exploration of sound can also free the creative flow. For me, sound is an important player in creation of theme, voice, and pacing, especially during revision.

I learned from one of my teachers way back in grad school to create a soundtrack for my book. Which became a playlist. To me, the soundtrack is one of the best parts of a great movie. Of course I love good acting, excellent setting details, and brilliant cinematography. But when the soundtrack is stellar, it can really intensify the meaning and emotion of each scene.

Fly Away Home is a older movie, a poignant story about wild geese and a young girl whose mother dies. I remember watching it and enjoying it, but my heart was truly pierced when Mary Chapin Carpenter's song ("10,000 Miles") swept behind the final scene. The song is all about letting go--loss paired with the strength to go on living.

What if you were aware of the music that ran behind a certain moment in your book? Or which theme song from a possible playlist informed a certain character or narrator? Imagine how it could bring you a much deeper understanding of that action or player.

Many professional writers create such a playlist, made up of different music that evokes character or turning point, to trigger nonverbal associations in the brain. We know that sound can take the writer beyond words into images--where the real emotion lies.

One student in my book-writing class did this exercise. She selected a sultry jazz piece for her character, Penny, during a chapter in the middle of the book. Penny's on the hunt for a criminal in the underworld of midnight bars. Jazz has a quality of smokiness, so this writer discovered that, once she chose a jazz piece for Penny, the character began to talk differently, move through the room more slowly. She even slid up to the bar herself, surprising for a character who is rather uptight on the job.

One day when I tried this exercise for a very stuck part in my last novel, I chose Eva Cassidy's final record. I love her music, and her voice always brings one of my characters to mind--a bold and fiery woman who causes a lot of trouble for one of my main characters.

As I listened to Eva sing a spiritual and then a blues piece, I realized I didn't have enough variation in my character's voice. I opened a few chapters and began inserting small changes that would vary her movements and voice.

Suddenly her choices (where I was stuck) got clearer.

This week, you might enjoy making a selection of music for your book's soundtrack. Create a playlist on your computer, phone, or ipod or ipad when you're done.

Test it out! I recommend playing your soundtrack while you're writing, especially when you need to switch over to image and emotion. Try choosing specific tracks to help you "see" your scenes and characters a bit differently.

You may find, as I did, the unexpected gifts your soundtrack brings to your book.

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