I’ve always been a huge geek when it comes to music. When I was growing up I listened to show tunes. Cats. Evita. A Chorus Line. Les Miserable. I had every single song from these musicals memorized. I could probably still sing most of the songs, if I could sing, that is.
When I got to college and found that a bunch of the other theater majors also loved show tunes (we even played them at parties) it was a relief to know there were others like me. Over the years my music tastes have changed, and as my devotion to the theater has diminished, so has my obsession with some of these soundtracks. Even still, most of the music I listen to tells a story. I’m one of those people who will actually download a song that I like after hearing it during an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve found some of my favorite songs that way.
I guess it makes sense then, that for me, there’s a huge connection between music and writing. When I was writing Starring in the Movie of My Life there were two songs that really inspired me. The first is by The Killers: “When You Were Young.” The message of the song is there’s this guy who is basically perfect, and he reminds you of your youth. But underneath it all there are flaws, because nobody can completely save anyone else. That song is perfect for Samantha, who is looking for Nate to be perfect and to save her from herself.
The other song is Brandi Carlile’s “My Song.” This song is about someone who is young but bitter, strong but damaged. I love how the narrator is so self-aware. She knows that she should be a nicer person, but she just can’t make herself be. That song is totally appropriate for Melody, who has it in her to be a good person, but life and circumstance isn’t on her side.
A couple of years ago I took a writing class, and the instructor recommended putting together a song list to play while working, to inspire my story. I tried, but it didn’t work so well because it was too soon. I didn’t yet know enough about the plot and characters to choose songs for them. There’s a lot of discovery that comes with writing a novel. It doesn’t always go the way I think it’s going to, and sometimes my characters act in ways that surprise me. I think I need to find the songs accidentally, and let them influence me however they may.
Music can be so full of emotion, and its power lies in being to express so much through so little. Think about it. A three minute song can tell us just as much about the world as an entire, 300 page novel can, if it’s done well. So I guess what I’m going for with my novels, is to have them communicate as much as a song.