Finding the Write Note
by Michelle Janene
You’ve reclined in one of those new lounge seats at the movie theater, with popcorn and soda in each hand. You’re all set to see an incredible new release. The lights dim and, before the first image is on the screen, the notes of the musical score fill the speakers. Your heart ticks up a beat. You know the theme song well. You downloaded it a week ago getting yourself geared up for this visual and auditory adventure.
The rain is pelting the window in sharp pings, making them sound more like stones than drops of water. You’re curled on the couch wrapped in a warm blanket and watching a romance set in a tropical location from your favorite streaming service. Waves caress the shore and birds call to one another. A discordant note strikes in the score. You pull the blanket a little tighter around you. Maybe this wasn’t the intended romance, but rather a thriller from your queue, you picked. Danger is near.
Humans are often driven by music. From the first recorded city in the Bible where people were making musical instruments (Genesis 4:21) to evidence scattered in museums around the world, to our overflowing playlists of today, we can’t seem to live without music.
But as writers, we go to our office or favorite writing chair. Sitting in silence, we tap away at our keyboards bringing life to the stories rambling around in our heads. And the silence is deafening.
If you’re a writer like me, we tend to avoid referring to music in our manuscripts. The copyright laws concerning use of lyrics are so strict we avoid even a title or vague mention of a familiar song in order not to encroach on another artist’s intellectual property. We’d ask no less respect be given for our own work.
But what is a writer to do?
Have you ever written while listening to music?
Deborah Raney led a workshop at a recent writers conference and reminded me of this. I saw a post in one of my Facebook writing groups about creating playlists for characters, scene types, or whole stories. Also Pinterest gave me a suggestion for this site: “44 Perfect Songs to Listen to While You Write.”
I often place my stories in medieval feeling eras. I have a CD with tavern sounds and songs that have played while writing. I also have a piece downloaded of monks chanting in an abbey. Many writers search through their favorite music sites to find tunes that are intense and even creepy to play while writing climatic scenes, or sounds of nature to put them in the locations of their setting.
Some writers love this. It helps fuel their creativity and allows them to dive into deeper POV (point of view). Others find it distracting. Music without lyrics works best for me. That way only the words of the story end up on the screen before me. Many movie sound tracks are great options to have playing in the background. Because music is such a powerful part of the human story, it can enrich and influence us as we write.
As for getting our favorite songs on the page, we can mention styles of music. The old radio only picked up the classical music station, which was fitting for its age. The live band started a mambo and Rich grabbed my hand pulling me to the dance floor. The canned elevator music made him want to rip the speaker out of the wall with his bare hands. These examples help our readers get a small feel for the music of the scene. I’ve even read a couple of authors who play with the written word making you think of a movie experience. She stopped at the corner listening. Sally half expected to hear the scary music of a horror flick fill the hallway.
Whether it is in written words on a page, or seeping through our speakers, music could be helpful and become a regular part of our writing experience. Music stirs our emotions and gives us clues to the actions about to happen. It helps us celebrate and comforts us when life is hard.
Start making your playlist today and immerse yourself in music the next time you write.
About the Author
Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer.
She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.
You can read Michelle’s “The Writing Life” column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Mustard Seed Sentinel.