A Novel’s Soundtrack

A Novel’s Soundtrack

Every writer is different and has their own way of doing things that works for them. Some people might benefit from the tip, while others wouldn’t, but I’ve always found other writers’ quirky methods fascinating, even if they don’t work for me.

One of my quirky methods is I need to write with music. “That’s not very quirky,” you might say. “Lots of writers write to music.” True, but with me, not just any music will do. It needs to be instrumental, preferably a movie or even video game score. It absolutely cannot have words in it, because the words in a song lodge themselves into my brain and keep the words from making it to my keyboard. (A strange aside: I can edit to music with words in it just fine.) “Okay,” you’re probably saying to yourself, “that’s less normal, but I can still understand that.”

Well, here’s the clincher. With a few exceptions, nearly every novel and short story I’ve ever written features multiple viewpoint characters (that’s not the weird part, of course). What’s weird is that I inevitably end up embracing some kind of theme music for each point of view: a particular album or a group of songs that I feel embodies the character’s essence, mood, and tone. And what’s interesting is these themes have still stuck with me.

My first multiple viewpoint novel, an epic fantasy I wrote back in 2001 (that I hope will someday end up being the middle volume of a pentalogy), had three viewpoint characters. You had Eagan, the young kid trapped in the middle of a war he didn’t understand—all of his chapters I wrote to the Braveheart soundtrack, with a little of Lorena McKennitt’s Book of Secrets album—the instrumental pieces, of course—thrown in for good measure, specifically “Prologue,” “Marco Polo,” and “Night Ride Across the Caucasus.” Those three all have a certain kind of magic to them, I think.

Then you had Artur, the monarch who inherited a realm he didn’t feel equipped to properly lead, which ended with him fighting more battles to defend that realm than he was initially prepared to wage. His chapters were mostly written to the Gladiator soundtrack, especially the imperious-sounding battle scores. Lastly, there was Mjorra, the aging mystic who had lost his sense of purpose. His chapters were largely written to—and don’t laugh—a Yanni album called If I Could Tell You. I’m not normally one for New Age-y music, but there are a few gems on that track that really fit the mood I was going for, and for me to remember details like this even twelve years should say something. Even today, I could listen to that album’s title track on an endless loop for days.

My most recent finished novel, Spectrum, is the most ambitious multiple viewpoint novel  I’ve ever written, and even in this one, the idea of character themes continued.

Gretta, the abandoned biologist with no home to return to, she got the hauntingly tragic and beautiful Whale Rider score. Jun, one of the last surviving leaders of his race, got the I am Legend soundtrack, which helped drive home his world-on-my-shoulders feeling. Lora, the wandering young girl frightened of her own shadow, merited the childish darkness of Pan’s Labyrinth with occasional smatterings of the Alan Wake video game soundtrack. (If you haven’t listened to the Alan Wake score yet, then do yourself a favor and go find a copy: it is seriously one of the best creepy soundtracks to write to. If you ever write anything supernatural, strange, twisted, or suspenseful, that soundtrack is your secret weapon. Trust me. Also, the game is amazingly atmospheric, and the story is fantastic too, if you’re into that sort of thing.) Now, for the character of Reinard, I honestly can’t recall any one specific throughput music for him, which makes complete sense considering he’s the mercurial character of the story. Sometimes he’s not even quite sure whose side he’s on. Lastly, we have Adlar, the emperor who believes himself divine. He ended up getting the Gladiator treatment again, but instead I wrote him more to the Commodus music scenes: “Patricide” and “Am I Not Merciful?” were absolutely perfect for the mood I wanted. Granted, I used a touch of other music here and there—The Village, Deus Ex (the original game soundtrack, not the newest one), Ergo Proxy (a futuristic anime series), and Fate/stay night (a fantasy anime series) also got a fair amount of usage—but by and large, the music previously mentioned had a big part to play in shaping the tone of the novel.

Got a favorite soundtrack that you use in your own writing? Let me know. I’m always on the lookout for my next character’s theme music.

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