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.
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.
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
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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.
34 thoughts on “How Music Helped Me Write A Novel”
Me and Noah are music buddies!
Lol! I actually have to give credit to Noah for getting me hooked on Collective Soul – they rock and I never would have found them if it wasn’t for him. 🙂
I’d pretty much like both of those soundtracks to be on discs waiting in my car right after I get off work. That’s not so much to ask, is it?
I really like this approach to connecting with your characters and the story!
Nah, sounds like a simple request to me! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! 🙂
I know you’ve mentioned your itunes list before but having your process written out really makes it come to life. Are you making a new list for the next book?
Yes! It’s a big departure from Noah’s Playlist, which tells me I’m on the right track because my second novel is a different genre from the first. So far the new playlist includes: Delerium, Mysteria (not the metal band), and The Beatles (my main character has an obsession with The Fab Four). I’ll write about it when the list becomes more complete. 🙂
Thanks for reading!
what a great way to look at it. i love that you included the playlists in your post. it made me imagine what noah might be like. and now i can’t wait to see what the *real* noah is like! 🙂
Oooo, that’s what I want to hear! I only gave partial listings (b/c the entire list is close to 60 songs!), but they are the main songs that shaped Noah. I’m thrilled to hear he’s coming through and I hope I’ve written him just as successfully.
Thanks for reading! 🙂
Absolutely fascinating! That’s a fantastic idea. I’ve always used music to help put me in the right mental mood as I write, but I’ve never tried anything like this before. You’re a plethora of creative ideas. : )
It’s a process I’ve used over the last few years. Sometimes its pretty easy and sometimes it proves to be a challenge. For “The Way Back” I had to make recordings of buskers on Youtube, which turned out to be a really cool experience. The story really benefited from hearing street performers sing with raw emotion.
The funny thing is I can’t seem to delete playlists once I make them (so much work goes into it). I still listen to them and they instantly transport me to whatever piece they helped inspire. 🙂
I also make playlists when I write — I love to read that it’s not just a “me” thing. Very cool! Those songs are great and I’m looking forward to learning more about Noah and his story!
Yay! It’s always nice to have a little company in the realm of creativity! We aren’t alone either – a lot of (published) authors make playlists, too. 😉
Hey, just browsing around as i 2 am thinking about startin up a world press site. Just wanted to say that I was so shocked to see this type of post. I AM THE SAME WAY! ‘cept my inspiration is more Beatle related. I’ve started writing and then I’d think, hey that reminds me of that Beatle tune and bam, it’s become my chapter title. Maybe we both think along the lines of novels turning into movies and needing a soundtrack ! lol
Right on! 🙂 I’m actually delving into the Beatles for my second novel. When I’m writing my stories play out like a movie in my head, so it makes sense to add the music!
This is awesome- I do the same things with my books. It really helps to “gel” the character and story in my mind. I’m glad to see it someone else does it the same way. I have done it with every manuscipt I’ve written except one.
Just last night, I discovered something new about a main character I’ve just started to create. I had my iPod on shuffle while working on something else and BOOM! I heard a song that inspired what is now a crucial aspect of this character. I love it when that happens! It’s so great to know other people work in the same way! 🙂
Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! 🙂
You have opened my eyes to character development. Thanks…
I hope it works as well for you as it does for me and so many others. 🙂
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It’s great how music can shape our characters and stories so much – I do the same to figure out where my story is going and to really dig deep into scenes and emotions. I’m really thankful that my car radio shows the names of songs because half the time I hear the perfect ones for my story when I’m driving around! I’m that crazy person at the lights trying to write down songs in a notebook before the light turns green. 🙂
Nice! When I’m in the midst of a project, my poor computer gets covered in post it notes so I remember to move certain songs to a particular playlist. 🙂
I love this idea of using music. I’ve done it a time or two, but never to this extent. Brilliant!
Thanks for stopping by! If you try it, I hope it works for you. 🙂
I love your playlist – You like Collective Soul’s “Shine” – have you listened to Dolly Parton’s version?
Yes! She really made that song into something unique and different.
Thanks for stopping by my blog – I really appreciate it! 🙂
I find that instead of listening to certain music for certain characters, I listen to music for different scenes, and it ends up playing out like a movie inside my head. A little crazy, maybe, but I find that it helps me to find a tone and feeling for whatever I am writing. Some Hans Zimmer, Javier Navarete, Howard Shore, they all inspire me in one way or another.
At the moment, my current novel’s playlist is lot like yours. The story is playing out like a movie in my head and I keep hearing a “score.” I combed through my music until I found something similar to what I was hearing. I love it when that happens! 🙂
It’s not crazy at all!
Ah, good. I usually just have my iPod on shuffle, and a song might come on while I am writing, and suddenly, I’m going at a different pace for that scene. I might even play it again to try and keep consistent. Sometimes though, I know exactly what I need to write a certain scene, so that’s when I find that song or that melody. I love music anyways, so it’s not that hard sometimes to find songs for me, because each tells it’s own story between the melody and lyrics. 🙂
Great minds…. 😉 For me, writing “Spiritkeeper”, the soundtrack included many bits by neo-romantic composer John Adams. David’s “weaving” theme appears in his Piano Concerto; a reprise of it appears, wonderfully enough, in the concerto’s slow movement (and the heartbreak scene in the book.) And then, Radiohead’s “Give up the Ghost” turned up…my closing credits.
How long have you been creating soundtrack for books and characters?
Nice soundtrack. 🙂
I’ve always used music. For a long time I didn’t realize to what degree it served as inspiration, but its always had a presence in helping me find my muse.