Friday, October 11, 2013

Using music in fiction

When I was eight I loved Madaonna. By the time I was ten, Guns N Roses. By the time I was in my late teens my tastes were varied, but I always fell on the side of metal and rock music and spent many a sweaty night in flea-pit pubs listening to music that only just about qualified to be considered as such. I remember one night in particular. I found myself in a punk gig in Wolverhampton feeling much like what I was listening to wasn't really for me, whether it actually counted as music or not, and that perhaps my ears might start to bleed by the end of the night. Nights like this explain why most questions people ask of me nowadays are met by a polite, 'sorry what did you say?' Tinnitus for four consecutive days does not for good hearing make!

But written questions don't pose the same problem, and considering that I am an author doing interviews whenever I get a chance I get lots of them to answer. There are certain questions that always come up and they are never difficult to answer. What do I need to be able to write? What kind of environment do I like? People like to picture how we as authors get the books written.  The easy answer was always silence. Perhaps years of 'noise' forced me into craving silence. I didn’t care for anything that created it whilst writing. TV or music, radio, chatter. Whatever it was, if it wasn't silence, it was out.

And then I started writing my latest book, and it became pretty evident that music featured heavily. Gregory, one of the characters has a love of classical music, and the importance of this fact is told through his wife's eyes and helps document a complex aspect of their relationship. So after the first scene cropped up with a bit of Rachmaninoff in, I decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to start a YouTube search and check I had got the right piece. It started off as a simple ten second check that I was using the composition that I wanted to, but then I decided to leave that song on to play. It turned out that having the music in the background helped. I had chosen that song for a reason. It had a mood to it, it delivered a certain feeling, and by listening to it I found that I could get into the spirit of the scene with much greater ease. Ultimately by having the music on I found that the emotion that I wanted to create flowed into the writing.

After this first scene I found that I craved the music, and that my prerequisite of silence was suddenly no longer quite so important. I spent time searching through YouTube for the right songs as I was writing different chapters. I wasn't even mentioning the songs in the writing, but just having them on in the background helped the words to flow. One scene I found that I was playing one particular song repeatedly until I got the scene exactly as I wanted it.

So no longer can I answer the question about my writing environment with such flippant ease. It seems that I am learning all the time about what I need in order to get the job done. Just like my tastes in music changed, so do my requirements to be able to write successfully at different stages of my life.  Writing sometimes needs silence and sometimes it needs, well, something else. Right now I am listening to an album from my youth, Megadeth's Youthanasia and wondering how I even considered that writing in silence was the thing I needed for this particular challenge!  I might only be one more riff away from producing a set of metal horns!

What do you need when you write? Has it changed like my needs have?


  1. I completely understand what you're saying! My debut novel is a time-slip story that sees the timelines jump from the present day to the 16th Century. In order to get myself into the right frame of mind for writing the medieval scenes, I found myself relying heavily on music by Enya and Loreena McKennit. Their atmospheric sound really helped me to become absorbed in the historical sections of the novel and I found I couldn't really 'go there' without them!

  2. Good luck with the debut novel! I think that learning your own 'process' and how that book gets written is so important. Working across such different environments and time periods must be quite difficult, and bit like suddenly changing POV. It's wonderful that an addition like music can really gear you up for those scenes.

    Perhaps you would like to appear here on my blog and share some of your work with us? I love having guests!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thanks Michelle, I'd be delighted to be a guest on your blog and to return the invitation :) I'm @evgaughan if you want to DM me on Twitter.