The best songs tell stories whether it be through the lyrics, beat, structuring, or a visual medium like a music video. Music can be a powerful storyteller in our own lives, but also for the stories we write and work tirelessly on for ourselves and others. Many writers have playlists for books that they use while drafting and revising, and we as readers and writers clamor to hear them because they become part of the finished book. These playlists echo characters and particular scenes, which further our experience.
Take for example (my best friend) Sabaa Tahir’s music page on her website. The page gives us an insight into Tahir’s writing process (like when she mentions listening to certain things in the writing cave). The music she shares has the potential to describe and develop her characters and her settings just as much as her own words do. When authors share songs, we as readers and fellow writers can dissect what about a song was compelling and how it might factor in to their work.
As someone who needs music to function both as a person and a writer, I’ve identified at least five ways music can help the writing process. Keep in mind that I’m choosing songs that describe my own work in progress–music is subjective as whaaaat! So even if none of these songs pique your own interest, you probably already know which songs you would put into these categories!
You know when writers make aesthetic photosets based on their work in progress? Or when readers make one for a book they loved? Music can accomplish these same ideas! Think about what your setting is (aesthetic) and how we as readers are supposed to feel while reading (mood). These songs do evoke emotion for readers and it’s up to you what those emotions might be. Movies and televisions have soundtracks to set the mood, and your book can have one, too! (You might even borrow one.)
Songs to try: Look Up by Litche, Trouble by Mouthe, Kids by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein (STRANGER THINGS)
During the scene in THE FORCE AWAKENS when Rey, Finn, and BB-8 make a run toward the Millennium Falcon, you wouldn’t choose to play a slow classical song. No! The scene is urgent and exciting as they flee Jakku. The scene wouldn’t be half as fun without the music and a slower, out of place song would change the pacing and energy. If a scene you’re working on is supposed to be fast, find a fast song that will keep up with what your characters are trying to accomplish. If a scene is slow, do the same—not every scene is an action scene, but the pacing should be treated the same. The beats will guide you as you write the scene and remember how much energy you want the scene and characters to have.
Songs to try: BULLETS by KAYTRANADA, The Raver by Ayah Marar, Be Your Love by Bishop Briggs
How are your characters feeling? Are they excited? Scared? Depressed? Longing? If I’m writing a scene about two characters who want to be together romantically, but can’t be, I’m going to pick a song that conveys that emotion to me, usually through the lyrics and my interpretation of them. Matching a song to a specific emotion or range of emotions will not only help you get into the character’s mindset, but stay there as you complete the scene. (This category is where all your ship songs go if you’ve got some… shhh!)
Songs to try: I Can Only Stare by Sleigh Bells, Waiting Game by XO, Cosmic Love by Florence + The Machine
What songs would be on your characters’ playlists? Do they like classical music? Punk? Funk? Electronic? Rap? Pop? RnB? Heavy metal? Disco? Which songs capture their essences as people? Knowing what kind of music your characters would have blaring through their bedroom speakers or throughout their spaceship’s sound system makes them more realistic. A fun brainstorming session might be making a playlist for different characters–especially if you have multiple points of view!
Songs to try: C’est La Vie by Tinashe/Cruel World by Phantogram/Skeleton Boy by Friendly Fires
- Motivation – YOUR OWN!
What kinds of songs get you excited and ready to write? Do you listen to music to pump yourself up, then turn it off to focus? Do you listen to music throughout your writing sessions? Do you dance as you type the way I do? Using music to aid your creative process only works if you’re geared up for it. You can use music platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud to discover new tracks that will keep you writing away and not even realize the song has ended.
Songs to try: On Hold by The xx, If It’s Not You by Keljet/AYER, Youth by Glass Animals, Kill V. Maim by Grimes, Hold Me by Gold Fields
These are just some of the ways I’ve found music to aid my writing process. Plenty of the songs I’ve included here could work for different categories entirely–mix and match your songs and favorite genres to find what works best for you and your work. I’d love to hear some of your favorite songs that inspire your writing!
Songs from this post:
Songs from our contributors: