Drafting Plots with Music

Given Up
Given Up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the ages, music has inspired writers. Plato said music was a moral law. “It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Shakespeare believed that music was the food of love, Tolstoy, the shorthand of emotion, and Angelou, a refuge. For a writer, music can be the most inspiring tool in their drafting arsenal.

I turned to music before writing Bonestealer. For a couple of weeks, my earbuds became an umbilical cord to my laptop where I first scrutinized my collection to find the voices of my characters already in Daystealer and Nightstealer. Then I discovered Spotify. I signed up for a free month trial without ads and dived into their site to develop a plot with these steps:

  • Discover new songs: Search for new songs from the artists with your character’s voice. For me, I was drawn to Within Temptation, Linkin Park, and Red and found even more songs that fit into my plans.
  • Use the FIND button: Search for songs with keywords that show the themes of your book. A few of my key words and phrases were memories, past, chained, don’t care, all alone, bones, Mongolia, forgiveness, and sacrifice. I found more songs and artists in a variety of genres I probably wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. spotify
  • Pull down a lyric app: Spotify has a couple of lyric apps that show the words while listening. Many times, the song’s message trumped the melody in determining the song’s placement on my Bonestealer playlist.
  • Note ideas: Many times, the song can deepen your understanding of a character or aid in developing the plot. I noted these ideas for future use.spotify playlist
  • Place the music in order: Arrange the music on Spotify’s playlist in the order you imagine it to be “sung” in the story. For instance, Skies of Mongolia by Treat inspired me to write the first setting on the plains of Mongolia. Later, Fist Full of Sand by The Bravery and I Don’t Care by Apocalyptica reflects the attitude Saba has toward Trinidad about their predicament. The most surprising discovery–Portishead as the the virtual voice of the Bonestealer.portishead artwork
  • Continually review playlist: As you write, listen to the songs again. After a couple of weeks, I had over 100 songs on my playlist, a basic plot, and clear direction of where I wanted to take my characters, but sometimes my writing went down a different road. At other times, the song didn’t seem as inspiring, so I deleted it from the list.
  • Keep ears open: During the first draft, continue to listen for more music to add to your playlist.
  • Revisit the list: When you experience writer’s block, go back to the playlist and listen again. The ideas inspired by the music will return and sharpen and you can write again.

How do you use music to inspire creativity, be it in writing, painting, or even in your relationships?

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4 thoughts on “Drafting Plots with Music”

  1. Couldn’t agree more about music inspiring the writing process. I often run a workshop writing to pieces of music and it’s amazing how certain pieces inspire similar scenes or settings but percolated through the individual writer’s life experience/outlook to produce uniquely original work. Interesting that you talk about using music with lyrics, I usually avoid this to prevent the words creating suggestions in the writer’s mind. For me the importance is in sound without words, so that the wordless unconscious may be tapped and fused through the conscious mind into the text. I shall have to try it with lyrics and see what happens.

    1. This was a new experience for me, too. I’ve taught writing to music as well. This time I discovered that some lyrics inspired me to take a direction with a piece I hadn’t considered before. Just have to be sure I don’t use the same language.

  2. As a painter I too use music as I paint. It helps me switch over to my right brain creativeness. Depending on the subject being painted, will determine choice of music though sometimes I let it randomly play. I love to listen to movie sound tracks but also listen to all kinds of other music. Havent tried Spotfy and will definitely give it a try.

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