Updated: Sep 16, 2019
When I sit down at my computer to write, the first thing I do is open iTunes. Most often I click on my fantasy playlist, which is a list of approximately eight-hundred songs. This list has grown over the years. I used to listen exclusively to cinema scores when I first started writing. Movies have background music, why shouldn’t my stories?
In my humble opinion, music is arguably the most important aspect of storytelling in the movies and on television. Dramatic scenes on the screen are never as good without the correct accompanying music. Don’t think music matters much for a scene? Check out this video of Jack Sparrow with different types of music.
So we know music is important for the sake of emotion. The video linked shows different types of music from dramatic to comical, and each type sets the tone for the scene. As a writer, you must do the same thing. You must use only one medium to do so: your words. How?! How does one convey all the sensory details a movie does, with visuals and sound, into just one form? Well, it isn’t easy. And while your readers may or may not be listening to music as they read your work, there is no rule saying you must write in silence. Turn on the correct music for your writing.
Let’s consider a hypothetical situation: You sit down at your computer and you’ve got to write a death scene. You want to write something that will make your readers cry. Obviously, they must be emotionally vested in the character as well. You want to elicit real sadness from your audience. Here’s a little nugget of info that I learned through experience: To elicit emotion from your reader, you must feel that same emotion while writing words they will read. But how does one do that? Death is both the easiest and hardest writing to conquer.
When I write a heady scene like death, I first watch a few death scenes from television history, specifically scenes that really hit me hard. Then I listen to the music playing during the scene. Whatever music I choose, it needs to bring tears to my eyes, especially while I’m writing the scene.
I did something similar when I was writing a death scene in Talon the Black. I knew I needed to be emotional while I wrote the scene, so that my emotions would pour into my writing. During the time of writing this scene, I was obsessed with Game of Thrones music. I turned on a song titled “Winterfell” which has a somber sound to it. The sadness of Winterfell is this: the whole family gets split up and some of them die, and never see each other again (spoiler…sorry). That was tragic to me, and every time I heard the song Winterfell, the home where they all grew up and lived, my heart tightened up. So, I put the song on repeat while writing Cyrus’s death scene. I cried a few times. That’s how I knew I would upset my readers too (in a good way).
You’ve got to feel it if you expect your readers to…Music can help with that.
Work hard on putting together a good library of writing music. I can help you get started. I took a few minutes to look through my fantasy play list, and then my iTunes to list some of the most memorable albums I’ve used for writing. Finally, you can always cheat and type “fantasy music” into YouTube and access hours of free music tailored for the type of writing you’re doing. Sometimes I listen to “Vikings music” there. Good luck!
Playlists for writing Dragonwall:
The Shadow’s Bride
The Dream Weaver
The Witching Hour
The Unspoken Tales
-Two Steps From Hell
Classics, Vol. 1
Classics, Vol. 2
Power of Darkness Anthology
-Game of Thrones Cinema Score (all seasons)
-Outlander Cinema Score (all seasons)
-Vikings Cinema Score (all seasons)
-Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies Cinema Scores
-Kingdom of Heaven Cinema Score
-Troy Cinema Score
-300 Cinema Score
-Basically anything John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, James Horner, etc. for Cinema Scores.
***Important note: I recommend staying away from music that has lyrics, especially lyrics you know the words to. I find myself singing along, which completely distracts me from the actual writing. Therefore, be wary of "Cinema Soundtracks" which is different than a "Cinema Score". To tell the difference: soundtracks have artists, and scores have composers. If you're one of those people who can write with singing/vocals in the background, more power to you. But I advise using music that has minimal vocalization unless the vocals are for sounds and not words...
What is your favorite music to write to?
Post in the comments below so that we can help others find inspiring music!