While working on my third novel, I listened almost exclusively to The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack.
Given the idiosyncratic nature of the album’s songs — not to mention the idiosyncratic nature of the movie itself — it’s perhaps no surprise that a friend of mine once responded, “Man, what kind of weird stuff are you writing?”
It hadn’t occurred to me that the music I listen to while writing could impact the words on the page. Oh, maybe I was stirred by a turn of phrase here, a shift in dynamics there. But do I gravitate toward a quicker tempo during action scenes and softer sounds for more poignant plot points? Hmm…
One thing I can safely say is that my Defenders of Valor, a battle-scarred sword-and-sorcery novel, bears absolutely no resemblance to Wes Anderson’s familial fracas.
This song perfectly captures the adversarial relationship between Vincent, the protagonist of my novel If Souls Can Sleep, and his brother Daniel.
Whereas some writers find music (or any background noise) a distraction, I am fueled by the creative energy imbued in most melodies. Occasionally, I write in silence—if, for instance, I forgot to grab my iPod or I’m so wrapped up in a scene that I neglected to notice an album ended.
Otherwise, bring on the aural stimulation!
Maybe it’s because I’m so often inspired by lyrics when away from my keyboard. A random line from a song can send my imagination soaring. I might construct a narrative from the verses or create an entirely unrelated story from a minor theme.
Some of my favorite songwriters are those whose tunes “read” like a short story. The Decemberists, They Might Be Giants, Regina Spektor, Jonathan Coulton — my mind can’t help but get swept away with their short sagas.
It’s like listening to literature.
More recently, the relationship between my love of writing and love of music took an interesting turn. During the time it took me to draft, rewrite, and edit If Souls Can Sleep, I started collecting songs that reminded me of aspects of my story: a character, a setting, a confrontation.
Then, without quite realizing it, I created a playlist for my book:
- “Quicksand” by Travis
- “Who Needs Sleep?” by Barenaked Ladies
- “Save Yourself” by Tarkio
- “Days of Elaine” by The Decemberists
- “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles
- “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” by Of Montreal
- “Am I Awake?” by They Might Be Giants
- “Lucid Dreams (Reprise)” by Franz Ferdinand
- “Great Hosannah” by Kula Shaker
- “Tattva” by Kula Shaker
- “Brother” by Murder by Death
- “Rain” by Bishop Allen
- “If You Can’t Sleep” by She & Him
Now it’s not amazing that two different art forms would capture themes of alcoholism, sleep deprivation, and a strained relationships. But when I listen to the unofficial soundtrack for If Souls Can Sleep, I can envision which scene each song would accompany. Some of the songs fit almost too perfectly.
It makes me wonder what songs have inspired other authors and what kind of an effect it might have had on the stories themselves.
It also makes me wish that some of my favorite novelists would include a suggested soundtrack in the back of their books. After all, storytelling can take many forms. If moving pictures can have soundtracks, why not the written word?