by Ren Cummins
This is what I get for posting on Facebook. There I was, being all innocent and posting a quick comment about my writing mechanics, and now here I am writing a blog about it to expand on my thoughts. I’m really my own worst enemy.
So here’s the thing: I love music. Like, Love it. It’s always been somewhere in my head, and I can’t remember what my life was even like before there was music in it. My first favorite present was a little record player, upon which I destroyed Winnie the Pooh albums; my first 8-track (you kids can go google that if you don’t know what those are) was the Muppet Movie – though I also had a copy of the Superman Movie soundtrack. I grew up loving Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Rossini, Brahms and the Beatles. Star Wars had a wonderful double album, with composer notes that I read as if it were the meaning of life. My first favorite song was “Play that Funky Music White Boy” by Wild Cherry, and the first cassette ever bought was “Rio” by Duran Duran. I’ve since made sure that same album is the first I buy in each successive media format – CD and digital. It’s a thing, I can’t explain it.
Part of what I love about music the transformative quality it possesses, but also, it’s a wonderful storytelling element. I used to become quite agitated in complete silence, always needing some sort of music to fill in the gaps. I kind of suspect this is why I used to write (and likely still could if I spared a creative neuron for it) music. And now, when I write, it’s still there. It has to be, in fact. If it’s too quiet, my brain goes back to trying to fill in those silences with music, and I’m pretty much useless for anything else.
I’ve since learned to channel that into my writing. I set up playlists and soundtracks of my own, and have them in the background while I’m working. It’s great for helping me mentally and emotionally find the pacing and intensity I’m looking for in a moment, and turns my subconscious to the storytelling elements I desire.
In the Chronicles of Aesirium, I leaned heavily on movie soundtracks – Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams. I listened to the Daft Punk “Tron” and the Matrix soundtracks a lot when working on the Machine city scenes. I played Yoko Kanno often when writing Rom, and listened to Joe Hisaishi soundtracks when working on Kari and other characters. Oldtown-Against-the-Wall got a lot of “steampunk” music, as well as lots of jazz. And of course, most of book 6 got into a lot of dramatic overtures. The 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky played a major part there; feel free to listen to that one along the final few chapters, along with Beethoven’s 9th. You’ll see what I mean.
So this new series has been weird for me, though. In Steel & Sky, I did the same sort of thing – the “Man of Steel” soundtrack was great, and I pulled a lot of music from the Ghost in the Shell movies, as well as a lot of my old favorite belly dance music. A lot of world music, really. And on this new book, I’m using a completely different playlist, much of which includes contemporary stuff – Sting, October Project, Howard Jones, Michael Hedges, Michael Manring, Gershwin, Andreas Vollenweider and so forth. Really odd choices, but… it’s really working. It’s taking my writing in some different directions, and making the flow a lovely and oddly comfortable dance as I head into the last chapters of this book. (note: if you have Spotify, feel free to follow me there – I’m currently using the “Othermind” playlist as I work on these last chapters)
But all that being said – – I know a lot of you who read this are writers as well – – do any of you use soundtracks for your writing? Share, please – I’m curious what kinds of music helps you write.