How Music Helped Me Write A Novel


When I set out to write my novel, I had only a vague picture of my main character, Noah.  I could see him and I knew most of his story, but the stuff that hides deep inside a person remained a mystery until I started constructing his character profile.  After a mess of notebook pages and scribbling, I realized character building takes more than just pulling things out of my imagination.  I needed to grab onto something concrete in order to get a real sense of this guy’s soul.  As it turned out, music was the key to understanding him and his journey.

I started by scanning through my iTunes library and randomly listening to songs of all genres.  I asked myself what Noah would blast in his car or what he would listen to when things didn’t go his way.  As I listened, I wrote down song titles when they made me think “That’s Noah.”  It didn’t take long for a very distinct profile to emerge.  Noah was all about good ol’ rock n’ roll, grunge, and a thumping beat.  He has strong emotions that he keeps locked up, so his music had to have the same vibe.

Noah’s Playlist:

Precious Declaration – Collective Soul

Allison Road – Gin Blossoms

Waiting For The End – Linkin Park

Propehcy – Remy Zero

Iridescent – Linkin Park

Shine – Collective Soul

Unwell – Matchbox 20

Gone Missing – Maximo Park

Long Day – Matchbox 20

For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield

Against the Wind – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Alive – Pete Yorn

Heavy – Collective Soul

Anything by John Mellencamp and Eric Clapton

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Each of the above songs helped to flush out the subtle nuances of Noah’s character regarding mood, temperament, attitude, and emotions.  On days when it was hard to find him, the music put me into his head and it helped me see things through his eyes.

Once I found songs for Noah, I looked for music that fit his story, a soundtrack of sorts.  The feel had to be similar to Noah’s Music, but it didn’t necessarily have to be something he’d crank up on the radio.  The music was more for me as his creator and narrator.  I looked for songs that lyrically told part of Noah’s story, while also encompassing his personality.  The soundtrack had to be strong enough to trigger the mindset I needed to be fully immersed in the story, even after a long day at work. Just like music creates mood and tone in film, it can do the same thing for the process of writing.

Story Soundtrack:

Angry – Matchbox 20

Life is Life – Noah & the Whale

All at Once – Pete Yorn

The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby

Robot Boy – Linkin Park

Your Life is Now – John Mellencamp

Shadow of the Day – Linkin Park

Acoustic #3 – Goo Goo Dolls

Better Days – Goo Goo Dolls

Listen – Collective Soul

Bed of Lies – Matchbox 20

Counting Blue Cars – Dishwalla

Fake Empire – The National

Bittersweet Symphony – The Verve

– – –

While this is only a small selection, each song relates directly to major turning points in my novel. They all inspired something like a plot point, an emotional response from Noah, or a subtle shift in tone.  I’m usually a slave to outlines on large projects, so I needed a constant reminder not to be so rigid.  The music got me thinking in different directions and gave me the spirit to let Noah and his story evolve in a more organic way.

c.b. 2011