How to write: The Importance of Music

My friends send around some of the silliest things on Facebook.  Just yesterday I saw an in-depth conversation circulating about the “Top 20 Useless Superpowers” (I have to admit – I thought “Communicating with fruit” was kind of cool).  I was bored and I started thinking about it, but I didn’t have any real ideas.  As I tinkered I had my music set on “random”.  The next song in the cue was “Come Together”, the cover version sung by Joe Cocker on the “Across the Universe” soundtrack.

Martin Luther in Across the Universe

At once I saw a man walking down a dark street.  Yes, it was in the movie actually, Jo-Jo’s spectacular arrival to New York.  But I took it further. Jo-Jo may have been a lost soul but not for long.  His music led him home.

Having just come to the city, what does my character do?  Unlike the movie, my character is on the outside looking in, frustrated, with no purpose.  No job.  No direction.  He’s been on auto-pilot for so long and this is where his journey led him – a bus station in New York.  Are you kidding?  He’s never been so alone.

By the time I finished writing the scene you could almost smell the alley as he walked.  He hunched against the cold out of habit, even though the day was unseasonably warm.  Rats scampered to the sides, similar to the big wharf rats found in New Orleans.  They were the first friendly things he saw.  They lifted his spirits a bit and he wished he had a snack for them.  Hell, at least they were familiar.  “Hold him in his armchair you can feel his disease…”

I still don’t have a good answer for the useless superpower, but Evan is now in New York.

When I’m writing, the difference between complete dreck and a vivid, living scene is always the music.  Though my readers will never hear it, they’ll know immediately if music isn’t playing when I write.  The words are flat, boring, rather pointless.  A shopping list has more purpose.

Let’s take another song.  This one was unexpected.  I was sitting at my desk, again uninspired.  It was a pretty day, and I was really stuck.  My older female character was in a real mood, the others were looking to her for answers, and I had none to give her to give them.

Suddenly, without warning (there’s good old “random play” again) the Rolling Stones started.  I’m a late convert to the Stones, being a loyal Beatles fan since before I could walk.  But when this song started… SNAP.  I looked up, no longer in my office.  I was in Caden’s living room.  A living room anyway.  Maybe a hotel.  And she was watching a pendulum swing back and forth….zing zinga zing zinga…


I backed the song up and listened again.  Zing zinga zing zinga zing zinga zing….

Caden looked around the room.  She knew what they had to do.  She knew they wouldn’t like it.  She knew…  “We go back.”

Zing zinga zing zinga… the pendulum swung and twisted to the tune, and “Gimme Shelter” just wrote a critical scene in my book.

Thanks Mick.  Seriously man, I own you one.  That was tough.

The song that came on after “Gimme Shelter” was “Exit Music (for a film)” by Radiohead.  *G*  Want to take a stab which scene I wrote to that one?

It’s always said that if you want to write, you must read.  That’s no joke.  If you’re not an avid reader you’ll never be a good writer.  But to take it to the next level, to give it that “wow, how did you do that?” spark, there’s gotta be music.

Across+the+Universe+AcrossTheUniverseDeluxeEditionBTW, if you’ve never seen “Across the Universe” go see it.  Keep your ears out for “Come Together”.  It’s flipping amazing, but then again so is the whole movie.  Wow Julie.  Nice job!


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