Thursday, July 16, 2009

If Music Be The Food Of Love

--Adrienne Miller
1809 London. Our hero saunters into a crowded ballroom. Amid the swirl of silk and jewels, he sees her. He’s been fighting his feelings for her, but seeing her like this--elegantly dressed, her hair falling in ringlets around her shoulders--he can’t deny them any longer. As Rufus Wainwright’s The Tower of Learning plays in the background, he realizes he loves her.
I’m sorry. What was playing? 
Well, at least, that was the scene as I saw it. I didn’t write in the bit about the Rufus Wainwright song. But from the moment that scene popped into my head, I immediately associated Simon’s love for Charlotte with that one song. It’s the same for every story, every character, every scene I have ever come up with. They all have a song. 
Music and creativity go hand in hand for me. I know people who need complete silence in order to focus on their creations. I am not of their fold. Even on the rare occasion that I have the house all to myself, the first thing I do is crank the tunes, and escape into the imagery the lyrics and melody create.
Music is like the key that opens the door to my creativity. The right song can help me find the emotional layers that were missing in a scene or the motivation for a character’s actions. I always start my day by listening to a song that puts me in the mood for what I am about to write.
Sometimes I attach a song to a scene or character. Other times, the song sings a character to life for me, like David Gray’s Ain’t No Love. (FYI,in honor of RWA Conference this week, Max’s story, has been determined by an independent judge *Martha* to be the best five word elevator pitch of all time. But that’s a post for another day.)
There are songs that paint a mood, like the sense of longing evoked by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, or the devastation of James Blunt’s Goodbye My Lover. Then there are the big guns like Everlong by Foo Fighters, which inspired a whole paranormal world. I would love to write a book based on Damien Rice’s album O.
My husband is a songwriter and I’m always telling him how jealous I am of him. He can elicit in three minutes the same emotions it takes me 5,000 words to show. Of course, he might argue the opposite, since a few of his songs were inspired by books and stories.
Oh, and the song I listened to while writing this? Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen, of course.


Juliet Blackwell said...

I like to put on Gregorian chants when I'm gold gilding something. Seems silly when I say it out loud, but it's amazing how quickly it gets me "into" what I'm doing.
I've never tried playing music while writing, though. It would probably take me an hour or two to decide on what to listen to, and by then the moment for writing would have passed!

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

I feel your pain. My husband is an illustrator, and he can draw six lines and make me feel something that takes a short story to match!

Always prefer silence to write in, but I live in SF and haven't heard the sound of silence in six years at least. Familiar music helps me most -- bluegrass, Billy Joel (I know, I know), or the Black Crowes more often than not. Once I get cookin' I don't even hear the music. I just don't hear the noisy life all around me.

Contrarily, I can write all day in a crowded, bustling coffee shop. It's those individual sounds that shred my concentration. Not sure why.

Fondest dream is to buy a shack by the ocean, in the forest, or even out in the desert, just so I can have a little peace and quiet.

Gigi Pandian said...

I'm with you, Adrienne. My characters created themselves a full soundtrack to their story.

Sophie Littlefield said...

screaming angry emo music. or whiny country ballads. nothing in between.

Adrienne Miller said...

I never realized how unusual it was to make soundtracks to stories until I had my critique group over for a brainstorming retreat. I asked them to bring a playlist that helped set the mood for the story. I mistakenly thought it was no big deal. They would already have a playlist ready to go, right? Um...not quite. No one understood what I was I was talking about. I felt bad cause some of them spent hours pondering which songs were right.

Tom Neely said...

I think this songwriter business might be easier than being an author...

I got an idea for a sad love song from watching Ghost Hunters, and working on it between students for a couple days, I had the music written. The words required exactly one forty five minute drive to think up and one twenty minute waiting room visit to refine. That's it. Song done! Not recorded mind you, but it's written.

Three minute pop song? Piece of cake. 100,000 word novel? Not on your life. Hats off to those who can do that. Seriously, that''s amazing.

Lisa Hughey said...

i used to be in the silence camp and then one very long plane ride home to help my parents move, i wrote longhand and to drown out the plane noise and discourage my neighbor from talking to me, i plugged in the headphones and found a soundtrack (VH-1's Save the Music). i had a complete creative breakthrough on that plane. i came home, bought that CD and i still can crank out words when listening to it. as a result i started finding songs that evoked the emotion i was trying to convey and now i soundtrack manuscripts :)