Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Music of the WIP

Earlier this week I posted the opening notes to this series: Music in Text. I've turned off the blog's sound track for this next installment in favor of a new music playlist. Read on.

Capturing the essence of a tune within the printed word is a tricky thing to do. Lyrics alone, even if you manage to get the permission to use copyrighted material, doesn't carry the same emotional weight as the actual melody coupled with the words and how they're sung.

As I've often said, I don’t write to music…but I muse to it. Listening to songs on my way to work is how I enhance plot details and embellish character and story details in my head. Some of these songs started as muse fodder.

Let me share a few examples with you from my current WIP in progress.

The Music of the WIP

When my character "informed" me he's a musician, it piqued my interest to select particular songs that reflect his feelings and what's going on in the plot, either directly or indirectly. Let me give you a partial list of the Music of the WIP. (I can't provide a complete list because the songs themselves would be major spoilers.)


I've embedded a playlist of these songs to accompany this article. Click on the title to hear the song (or just a portion of it) as I explain why I chose them.

Music Box Dancer
The female MC often gazes into her musicbox--a gift from her late father--for comfort and nostalgia. The uplifting tune of the 1970s instrumental is the melody it plays. I used descriptions like "light" and "buoyant" to describe the melody as well as describing how it started with a single piano and then an orchaestra joined in. This music box, by the way, has some very special properties.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens
This is my character's introduction as a singer, when he's shanghaied by his peers into providing the evening's entertainment. The female MC is clueless about her love interest's particular talent at this point in the story, so this comes as a total surprise--for both her and the reader. I chose this particular song because of the amazing vocals and the contrast with the setting, in both time and place.

Riverside by America
The female MC is invited to the male MC's band practice with his friends. This largely overlooked America tune carries an instrumental introduction that's a perfect opener for the band's mellow rock jam session (a bit of an antique in their time...and maybe in ours, for that matter). The song also carries subtle clues of his philosophy. “I said, the world don’t owe me no living.”

You Can Do Magic by America
The male MC follows up Riverside with another America song, this one offered as a serenade to the female MC, and her first real clue that his feelings for her may be deeper than he's able to admit or that his recent actions have shown.

Say (What You Need to Say) by John Mayer
The male MC knows something is amiss and is frustrated that the female MC is unwilling or unable to talk about it. “Fighting with the shadows in your head” is his not-so-subtle way of telling her he knows she's not being completely forthcoming, and it throws her into internal conflict and a temptation to back out of the spot she's put herself in. Or maybe the spot she's put them both in.

(I Think I'm in) Trouble by Lindsay Buckingham
Editor's note: Please overlook the first few garbled words of silliness. In case you're wondering, he's saying "two...uh-three...uh-four...two...uh-three...uh-four." And yes, translation is necessary. From the moment the actual vocals kick in, this is one of my all-time favorite melodies. This song represents a pivotal moment in the plot where the male MC must decide whether to accept the life-shaking revelations he's just discovered about the female MC and the fact she hadn't disclosed a major truth to him. (If this sounds like a cliche' situation, trust me as a writer, it's not.) Through his music, he's trying to decide whether to cut and run, or work through the bombshell she's just dropped. She overhears him singing his lament and realizes she's responsible for his confusion.

Silence by Delerium
A haunting, modernized Gregorian chant that captures the loneliness, fear and heartache behind a decision the two MCs must make, and as the music implies, its a dreamy and surreal situation.

I hope you liked reading about the plot points behind The Music of the WIP. I'm curious to hear your thoughts or experiences on this subject. How do you use music in your manuscripts? Is music an important element, or does it just get a mention or help flesh out setting? Have you ever tried to work a particular song or lyrics into your story?

Next week: The Power of Music


  1. Wow, that's fascinating. I can see those scenes too! I must admit I don't think much about music and my stories but I get inpsiration from music and the lyrics!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Barbara. :) Since you're familiar with this WIP--at least the first 10 chapters or so--you can probably put my descriptions into clearer context. It's hard to be more specific when discussing a work in progress without unleashing the spoiler hounds. ;)


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