Musings on the Craft of Writing

►Ambiance for reading/writing

Have you ever watched pre-edited footage of a movie scene? The characters are moving about, the scenery pans, etc., but something feels “off.”  All of the belief that we suspend is chucked right out of the window.  We’re aware that this is just a staged scene in a movie.  Why?  There are small changes between these shot scenes and what we see in Post, the primary one being the audio (we can hear their lines, but the audio sync hasn’t been applied) and, far more powerfully, there is no music being played.

For whatever host of reasons, it seems universally true that thematic music is a major contributor to the movie experience.  I’m convinced that this also applies to novels. I think that we should do ourselves the service of setting the right ambiance for ourselves, eg, listening to the type of music which matches the genre of that book.  It enhances the experience (I believe) just as dramatically as the soundtracks in the movies we enjoy.

The same is true for some stages of the writing process, at least the “creation” stage of your book.  Letting your mind swim in a world of ideas is often aided by surrounding yourself in the type of music which resonates with the tale you’re creating.  Of course, for all reading/writing, silence is also golden.  Even in movies, the soundtracks aren’t always playing–If they were, we’d become numb to their effect.  It seems that the worst thing we can do is to read (or, gods forbid, write) with a TV, etc. on, or to listen to music which is runs counter to the genre of the novel.  Imagine Star Wars with no music whatsoever.  Imagine watching Braveheart with the James Horner soundtrack having been replaced with music from the Benny Hill show!

I have at least 3500 songs divided into multiple folders, which I use for different types of reading/writing I do.  When I was in the creation/musing stages of After Life (and for some of the actual writing time) I created a playlist of dark, ambient music, for that matched the setting/theme of the novel.  If I was creating a combat scene, I would play the music folder containing those songs, and so on.

Now, this isn’t the case for editing/proofing; in those times I actually find it counter-productive to listen to the tracks that emotionally enriched the creation of the tale.  Editing is not a time for emotion since it will color our objectivity.  During the editing time, I need either silence or “background” music, like electronica/lite techno.

Other elements for creating the right ambiance affect us as well.  For some of my reading/writing, I will sit in a candle-lit/fireplace-lit-only room (with or without the music).  Sometimes surrounding yourself with sunlight and trees strengthens the writing of a scene.  Sometimes sitting in the dark helps.  But whatever book you’re in, help set your own mental stage to enhance your experience.

~~ The pond where I sometimes write ~~

~~ The pond where I sometimes write ~~

Compiling a large music list may take years.  My compilation of Fantasy music takes me back to my early 20s, filled with hundreds of movie soundtracks, etc.  Online stations like Pandora are usually useful (although their “music genome” will sometimes play a song which is radically counter-intuitive), but you need a service which is commercial-free or it will break the atmosphere.

~~ Where I wrote on our last Summer Solstice ~~

~~ Where I wrote on our last Summer Solstice ~~

Here are a few Pandora stations I have created that I can share:

General “Fantasy” music:

Dark/ambient music:

Calm Electronica music:

For those of you who read After Life, I suggest listening to general Fantasy music until Ch 10, and then shifting over to dark/ambient (and then adding candlelight to your experience as well).

What music goes best with your novels?

Share away,











10 responses

  1. Daniel, interesting and thought-provoking views. As a lover of music and one who writes frequently, I find I best translate my thoughts into words in silence. However, when reading others work, I almost always have music playing. To each our own, right? And I’m a big fan of Pandora. 🙂 Thanks for your engaging post.

    November 21, 2013 at 7:40 pm

  2. Delilah

    I have to agree with Eric’s comment. I find it difficult to stay on task when I play music and write. Most of the time I will listen to music to build some inspiration and then start writing. I like the idea of posting the music suggestions to enhance the reader’s experience. My music taste is all over the place as is my taste in books and movies.

    November 21, 2013 at 7:54 pm

  3. To both Eric/Delilah: Yes, I also need silence at some points… It’s hard to chart. I certainly use music, as I said, in my creation/musing stages. Thereafter, my subconscious must be rolling dice to decide what it wants. But I listen and obey.
    Thanx to you both.

    November 21, 2013 at 7:59 pm

  4. axiomatika

    i’m moody when it comes to listening to music while writing. i did write a flash (which was later pubbed) while listening to 70’s music because it takes place then.

    November 21, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    • When I was in the creation/musing stages of After Life I listened to hours of the dark ambient music… I think I inadvertently put myself into trances. 😉
      Thanks for stopping by, A.

      November 22, 2013 at 12:02 am

  5. I agree, love a bit of background classical when reading a novel. I’m currently reading ‘A Riot Of Our Own’, which is a biography about The Clash. Should I listen to punk in the background?

    November 23, 2013 at 7:27 am

  6. That last photo .. the Duck is hooked haha.

    But the idea behind this post is very true though, cannot think of all the times those theatre kids should have added just a hint of music in the background for those (awkward) dramatic silences. But just yesterday (by pure coincidence) the Duck shuffled her songs and caught a few dark ones and wrote out something in a big flourish (: it works !

    November 30, 2013 at 2:55 pm

  7. dragonfly

    I should try some music when reading. I almost never do that.

    December 5, 2013 at 12:46 am

  8. A very inspirational post on music and writing. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    December 5, 2013 at 3:59 pm

  9. Pingback: ►The Actual Writing | Daniel Ionson

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