Thursday, May 05, 2011

Music as the Food of Writing

Music inspires us all.

Okay, that might be a sweeping statement but I believe it to be true.

There’s a reason they give out awards for movie soundtracks. Although the music may be the background to the visual spectacle onscreen, it plays on our emotions to heighten what we are seeing.

A pounding movie soundtrack makes us feel uplifted, adventurous, or brave. Creepy background sounds can also make us gasp and shut our eyes shut as we wait for the impending onscreen fright.
Music goes straight through the circuits to the emotional core of us. That is why writers use music for inspiration and vice versa (Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights comes to mind in the vice versa category). We try to capture the emotion music gives us and translate it down onto the page. Whether the song makes us feel brave (Eye of the Tiger by Survivor), sexy (Wicked Game by Chris Isaak) or righteously angry (just about anything from the aptly named Rage Against the Machine), we can harness that feeling into a words, and a story.

I once wrote a song while listening endlessly to Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon. It was a sexy story, but also a dark one. I picked up in the song a subtext that made me enjoy both the act of writing my story more and also gave me a different perspective on a song I liked.

Try playing a song you know makes you feel a certain way and use it for inspiration for a story you want to write, which is based on that same emotion. Or just listen to a favourite song and try to make up a poem or a story that builds on how that song makes you feel. There’s no right or wrong answer. For all I know, Survivor makes you feel sexy and Chris Isaak enrages you. But the point is, try it. Engage another of your senses the next time you write and see where it takes you.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at

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