I got rhythm, I got music, I got my love, who can ask for anything more?

posted on: May 14, 2013

Writing Tip #2:  I Got Music


Music sets an emotional wash over the atmosphere.  Most of us have had the experience of a tune that rolls around in our mind, popping up at unpredictable moments.  Right now, mine is “I’m Sexy and I Know it” that I danced to a few weeks ago at a wedding.  We want elements of our writing (plot, characters, dialogue, and theme) to have a similar impact on our readers.

Some writers play music while they write. I play music when I’m doing art and, as I’ve written previously, (link)pick a genre of music that suits the image I’m creating.  One writer actually sings the same tune (the Mousketeers theme song) over and over while she writes. A friend of mine plays a song on a continuous loop while he’s writing.  When he starts a new chapter, he switches to a new tune.  Most of the music he chooses is techno.  As I’ve suggested,  the constant perfect beat propels the writing.

I “hear” songs while I’m writing scenes, my automatic  music score.  Lyrics accompany the narrative as part of the setting.  Unfortunately, the lyrics can’t be used since they’re copyright protected. The writer must obtain permission, which is difficult, and pay for their use, which is expensive.  Thus, lyrics that seem so perfect as an auditory backdrop have to be excised.  It doesn’t usually matter because the music and lyrics did the important work; they informed my scene and helped me visualize it.

While working on a scene, I download music from that time and place and create a play list.  Listening to it as I drive, clean my house, dance  ushers me into details, and deeper sense of aura of my scene. In a review of Southern Cross the Dog, the author, Bill Cheng, said that he “drew from his deep knowledge of the blues to write the novel,” although he had never been to Mississippi where it takes place.  He “saw” Mississippi through its music.

While I was working on Inside the Crips set during the development and flowering of rap and gangsta rap, I listened to the music Colton loved growing up.  This included, of course, Ice T’s music who was a friend of Colton’s and wrote the prologue to our book.  Driving from a parking structure, the young woman cashier commented, “Is that Tupac’s Life Goes On I hear?”

“Yep, I love rap,” I answered.

Eyes wide, shaking her head, she said, “I never would have predicted that.”  I guess I don’t fit the demographic. However Life Goes On is the perfect theme song for Inside the Crips.

Experiment with music as one of your writing tools. Let it help your mental stage, remind you of details from times past. You can live for a few minutes in another era, or unique aspects of your characters’ life. The music in our heads sets a beat and enriches a mind set that carries over to prose.

At the publication of The Christmas Cookie Club, I presented CD’s of the music that had been cut from the narrative to my editor and the staff at Simon and Schuster.  I thought I’d share that playlist with you:


What’s Love Got To Do With It                    Tina Turner

A Fork in the Road                                            Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Santa Baby                                                           Eartha Kitt & Henri René

She Just Wants to Dance                                Keb’ Mo’

Blackbird                                                              The Beatles

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction                         The Rolling Stones

War                                                                        Edwin Starr

Honky Tonk Women                                       Ike & Tina Turner

Love and Happiness                                       Al Green

Lucille                                                                 Little Richard

Natural Woman                                             Aretha Franklin

Ball & Chain                                                    Janis Joplin

Cocaine                                                             Eric Clapton

Good Rockin’ Tonight                                 Elvis Presley

Night Moves                                                    Bob Seger

Beauty In the Dark                                         The Isley Brothers & Mos Def

Hold On I’m Coming                                      B.B. King & Eric Clapton

Let’s Groove                                                      Earth, Wind & Fire

Shower The People                                         James Taylor

Many of the titles are mentioned in the book—especially during the dancing scene. Al Green’s Love and Happiness is the favorite both in the book and at my real Cookie Club.



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