Art is an all-encompassing thing. I can’t speak for other writers, and maybe it’s because I have ADHD and need to keep background noise going while I work on anything in order to focus, but I have to listen to music whenever I write. 

I’ve talked in writing lessons why it’s so important to get into a mood when writing, and how what you read, what you watch, what you see, and what you hear helps. But of those things, I hold music the most sacred. 

Nothing else can get you into a certain mood as fast as music. They’ve done studies where they remove music from sad scenes in movies (like Bambi’s mom’s death) and the audience almost never cries without it. We all know that feeling when you’re out and about and hear a song from your childhood you haven’t heard in years, even forgot, and you lose it. 

Well, maybe not you millennials who have playlists almost as old as you, but for us geezers we remember what it is like to have a favorite forgotten oldie. All of us can appreciate the feeling when “my song!” comes on. But what can it do for writing? 

I want you to try a small experiment to see if music can help you. The method I use for writing doesn’t work for all, but it could work for you. Please plot out a short story, we’re aiming for 5-10K words total, that has a protagonist, and two other principal characters. Plot it out, whatever genre you like, and write the character bios for all three principals. The plot can be weak here, we’re working on character development. 

Now, you know about your characters, you know what they look like, and you know your plot, ergo your genre. Now let’s go to Youtube! Or your own music collection, whatever you like, but I’m lazy and Youtube is easy. 

Now I want you to pick a band that A) You like, B) You know their catalog well, and C) Has a sound that fits the genre of your story. Horror stories and metal, mysteries and classic rock, coming of age and pop of the decade its set in, and so on. 

For example, in my Marly Jackson world, it’s the Stones, baby. The Rolling Stones. If you have to pick just one band’s collection to go with you into exile, pick the Stones. 

Now, for each character I pick an introduction song and a theme. The theme can be any band, any song, that fits the character and we’ll cover that in a moment. The introduction must be a song from the band you picked. 

What is the introduction? Here is the real exercise. I want you to imagine your story as a movie. One of those art house type films recent film school grads like to churn out, or the very first films of successful (and GOOD) directors. If you don’t know what I mean….*sigh* you’re a storyteller! You should love books, movies, and music for the stories they offer and should learn more. Just go watch “Mean Streets” and you’ll start to understand. 

Now, would Marly Jackson books make good movies? Fuck no. Maybe a TV show, but I doubt it. The film is just in my head, a way of seeing my characters move, talk, seeing them in 3D, fleshed out. 

I envision MJ as a TV show, because I have so many prominent, returning characters. I imagine every episode focuses on one of the principals, and the introduction/titling is playing the character du jour’s introduction song. 

Since I went with the Stones, in my first example we have Marly Jackson’s introduction “Play With Fire”. 

 

So when I play her introduction I listen to the song and I picture her waking on her pull out couch. She’s bedraggled, reaches for her bottle of whiskey to kill morning breath, and lights a cigarette. The camera catches her in shadow, mysterious, a slim woman with wild hair, a lit cigarette in the dark. She rises, walks to her desk, sees the blinking light of a message, then strolls to her windows. Still smoking, she looks down on the quiet streets of the Uptown neighborhood where only cabs roam at 5a.m. and the camera pans back over her desk. We see her guns, case notes, etc. It sets the mood for her character, mysterious and yet solving mysteries. 

In short, the introduction song gives us a glimpse of the character’s orientation in the story. Note the lyrics of “Play with Fire” are antagonistic towards rich girls, and who has caused Marly the most problems? 

For Michael Finnegan’s episode, I hear “Under my Thumb.” (LINK) 

 

The camera pans down the long hallway from his front door past security, and into the larger studio. Actors are in scene, fucking, a crew watching and directing while they film. It pans slowly over to Finn standing in his office, smoking, watching, then to behind him to the picture of him and Marly as cops with a former mayor. 

Then Carlos, his assistant comes in, they speak but I can’t hear over the music. The camera follows Carlos down the hall, past the smaller studio, into the fencing room. We see a lot of employees flitting in the meantime, and end in the fencing room lingering on an item important to the current story. 

With Buzz, Marly’s Uncle, I see his episode beginning with “Mother’s Little Helper.” 

 

We start with Buzz waking in a clean bedroom, well rested, like Marly he uses whiskey to clean his breath. On fast forward we see him quickly shower and dress, go to the liquor store and buy more whiskey, then hit a drive-thru for a burger. Next he goes to the Jackrabbit where we see him drink, talk, laugh, all in fast forward. Then he goes to his cop friend’s house for poker where they smoke cigars and drink scotch. He goes home, into his bachelor’s garden back yard with a beer and watches the sky, slipping drunk into bed. 

There are many others, but since Viktor Petrov has joined a crew of returning characters and is a very interesting one to me, he comes last in the examples, his intro song is “Stray Cat Blues.” 

 

In his intro I see him In fast forward wake with servants, breakfast with his son, ride to the CSO to rehearse, perform in rehearsal to accolades, flirt with fellow members, then get into a car with his goons. They drive to a warehouse where it slows to real time, and we see him “interrogating” a prisoner with no explanation as to why, showing the violent side of him in contrast to the refined. 

So you see the intro songs all tap into the overall character of the person, and because they are the same band gives a cohesive feeling. But what about the theme? 

The theme can be any song in the world that you feel brands the character. As an example, Petrov’s theme song is “The Green Manilishi (with The Two-Pronged Crown)” by Fleetwood Mac. 

 

For him it’s not really the lyrics but the driving, minor blues chords that give a feeling of power and doom. I can’t go into the themes of the previous characters because they encompass the entire planned arc of the characters over seven books and mystery is the whole point. 

Now, write down your list of intros and themes. You’re going to write listening to these songs. Here’s a neat trick to make youtube songs repeat: go up to the address bar. It will say something like: 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06_ng5caZ78 


Now delete the www and add the word repeat after youtube, so it looks like this: 


https://youtuberepeat.com/watch?v=06_ng5caZ78 


It takes you to another site, listen on repeat, which is 1200% safe, and automatically loads your video ready to play on repeat. The address bar will say this: 


http://listenonrepeat.com/watch/?v=06_ng5caZ78#the_rolling_stones_greatest_hits 


Now you have endless repeat. Try to listen to the intro song when you first introduce your character and then listen to their theme on repeat as you write about them being the principal in a scene. 

Once you’re done, edit it as you do, and ask yourself if you felt it helped. Make note of that. Now, walk away for a week and come back, read it with fresh eyes. Does it feel like the characters are richer? If it does, this system works for you and can help. If you notice no difference, or it was just too distracting, it’s not for you. 

So happy writing, and if you try this, let me know the results. Comment with a link if you post the story online, and thanks!