This week, I listened to a CBC interview of Ian Rankin in which he discusses the large influence music has had on him. The same is true for me. I especially remember punk and new wave emerging in my late 70s undergrad days. I was in an all-male residence and there was a big debate over how that music measured up to traditional rock. We did agree to disparage disco…until we figured out girls didn’t show up at our parties without it.
Here’s how music can help writers.
Inspiration. Music can inspire a writer to sit down and start writing. The melody or rhythm might energize him. The lyrics might spawn a storyline. The emotion might conjure a scene. (Or he might just be inspired to listen to the next song. No one said it was easy.)
A background for writing…maybe. I need quiet to write. Otherwise I can’t hear the characters speak or feel the rhythm of sentences. Lots of writers do have music on when they write. In the interview, Rankin talks about using electronic music as he writes to separate his real and fictional worlds. Each to his own here.
Characterization. When a writer shares a character’s musical interests, he helps readers learn how the character emotes. In a difficult situation or looking for comfort, does the character long for Dylan’s penetrating lyrics, Miles Davis’s aching trumpet or Amy Winehouse’s sorrowful vocals? In effect, music is a shorthand way for readers to feel more involved, positively or negatively, with characters.
So, at least for main characters, a writer may want to ask himself what music they like. And rather than just saying that a character likes jazz or Top 40, the writer can pick an artist or sub-genre, give the music a listen and figure out what draws the character. Whether or not that detail finds its way into the book, the writer will know his character better.
Setting. In describing setting, writers usually focus on the visual. But telling readers what can be heard offers a lot, too. A Top 40 song places the period of a scene. Music defines a club or bar. A background song increases the sense of a character brooding over a difficult problem.
For Social Exploration. Of course, many writers use their stories to explore social conditions. The musical context can be highly relevant. A great example is Esi Edugyan‘s Half-Blood Blues, which uses jazz in 1940s Europe as a backdrop.
Time for me to go listen to some Deep Purple.
Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze
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