Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Music as Character

Music is an important part of my life. It's also an important part of my writing life. I grew up in a musical household, although no one was professional. My father, a doctor by profession, schooled all of us in classical music because that was all he listened to in his car while he drove us to to various destinations. Being Asian, we also grew up with music lessons: piano for me and my sister, accordion and organ for my brothers. And most of all, my older siblings were so into rock and roll that some Billboard hits are part and parcel of my childhood memories. I was probably all of seven when I bought my first-ever 45 single.

That said, I found it only natural to include music in my writing life. There were certain albums I always listened to when I wrote, depending on what I was doing. Vivaldi was fantastic for school work as well as fiction, back when I was in high school. The current top 20 was what I needed for writing in my journal. And the Beatles went with just about everything.

The habit followed me into adulthood and I can give you the soundtrack for every novel I have written, up to and including the "anchor song." My anchor songs relate to specific characters and listening to those songs gets me into a mindset at the speed of sound. Maybe even quicker -at the speed of thought. I think what I call a "soundtrack" other writers sometimes refer to as a "playlist." (Unless I'm wrong, which is entirely possible, and the playlist is actually what their characters are listening to during the course of a story.)

The important thing is that it's all about the music. I can write without it, but have a much easier time if my relevant tunes are playing while I'm composing. I know writers who think I am insane -that music would be too much of a distraction from writing and that they could not possibly get anything done with the stereo blasting. Steven King, however, writes to AC/DC so I figure I'm in good company!

Recently, two different musical-type people I know tried to show me that I don't appreciate music the same way they do since I am able to write while listening to it. They told me that it must mean that it doesn't move me or affect me or transport me the way it does them. I must admit I found the observations from both of them, although well-meant, to be hurtful. There are times I feel music so strongly that I'm sure I could climb into its very substance and live the rest of my life in its protection. In Saving Jake, I mentioned that "music saved both his life and his sanity." Since I tell people that Saving Jake is actually my fictionalized biography, I must have been writing about myself.

As I mentioned earlier, every single one of my novels has a soundtrack. I frequently wonder how many writers out there are doing the same thing. I would love to know the background music, the other "character", involved in creating those novels I've read by other music-oriented authors.


  1. Great post. I love music. I took piano lessons when I was a kid. Played clarinet in the junior high and high school bands. Music plays a part in most of my stories I write. Usually I don't listen to music while I write, but some sort of music ends up in my books. Mostly the 50s songs. Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Everly Brothers. Some modern country. Music is soothing to me too. When I'm stressed I can play the piano and feel so much better. The cats run and hide though. Guess they aren't musically inclined.

  2. Nice to see this topic again - there can't be enough discussion of how music can be an inspiration in writing stories. I know too many writers who have music playing in the background. I have Celtic music when I'm writing elves, but lately I've been relying on movie soundtracks and electronic.