Friday, February 6, 2015

Does Your Manuscript Have a Soundtrack?

By Kim

It feels odd for me to write a post about manuscripts having soundtracks since I’m one of the few writers I know of who must compose in silence. It wasn't until quite recently that I realized music still plays an integral part in my writing process.

A little backstory: I spent most of the summer *cough* and fall *cough* stuck on the same scene. I knew what needed to happen and I knew that writing it would force me to go to revisit places in my mind I'd have done just about anything to avoid. I hate fight scenes. Bickering is fine. Name-calling and any sort of violence, no matter how mild, is highly troubling to my Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Prospecting (INFP) personality type. Those who share that profile are called ‘diplomats’ for a reason, but I had to let these characters battle it out unhindered.

Back in November, a Facebook friend posted a music video by The Family Crest, a group whose song “Love Don’t Go” was played at the opening dinner for the Writer Unboxed UnConference. I remembered having liked that song, so I clicked on the video for “Beneath the Brine.” Halfway through, I paused it and went over to iTunes to buy the whole album. The song is unsettling, to say the least. An orchestral tempest of raw emotion sung by a man whose voice soars to highs few humans could ever master. My mother went so far as to compare listening to it with watching the movie Moulin Rouge. (I admit that film mesmerized me from beginning to end.)

I had probably heard “Beneath the Brine” several dozen times before I realized why I kept hitting ‘repeat.’ The mood was exactly what I hoped to replicate in the-scene-that-refused-to-be-written. It had all the waves and lulls of a storm at sea, yet even the calm parts were rife with tension. With lines like ‘all of my love, and all of my life, given to you, sacrificed’ this is a song I could well imagine Madonna singing to Carl if this scene were part of an opera. Living with him was indeed like enduring “a steady squall” where she must choose between her ambition and an obsessive love that both sustains and slowly drowns her.

Once I connected the song to my scene, the words all flowed out in one exhilarating rush. (Thank you, Sean Walsh!)

This experience made me think of other songs that have influenced my manuscript over time. There are the obvious ones, such as "Amazing Grace", "Ave Maria", Tchaikovsky’s "Warum Op.6", and Alfredo Barili’s “Cradle Song”. All but the latter are ones Madonna sang in her recitals or at other key moments in the book. Barili, one of Atlanta’s most prominent composers, was Madonna's voice teacher in the summer of 1921. He surely would have played her his most famous piece.

Two songs from Cinema Paradiso (one of my favorite films of all time) are ideal to listen to before tackling a romantically nostalgic scene. The first is the lilting main theme (by Laurent Korcia) and the other is called “Se.” Josh Groban did an amazing version of that song. It can turn me into a weeping sap in less than thirty seconds even though it's in Italian.

So She Dances,” also by Groban, perfectly illustrates Carl’s feelings for Madonna during the Roycroft section of my manuscript. Christina Perri’s “Distance” sums up Madonna's side of the relationship well, at least until it escalates to something more like “You are all I see, sweet obsession in my soul. Fill each moment with your voice, breathe your beauty into me.” – from Tara MacLean’s “For You.”

Other songs in my manuscript’s soundtrack:

After the Fall” by Cary Brothers
MyImmortal” by Evanescence
Gravity” by Sara Bareilles
I Should Go” by Levi Kreis
Last Train Home” by Ryan Star
Set the Fire to the Third Bar” by Snow Patrol
Crack the Shutters” by Snow Patrol
Shattered” by Trading Yesterday

As you can see, very few of these songs existed in the early 1900s. That doesn’t matter, because songs from Carl and Madonna’s era would hold little emotional meaning for me, the author of their story.

What about you? Which songs have influenced your manuscript? Have you ever heard certain songs play in your mind while you read someone else's stories?


  1. Great song, great list, Kim! Music very often provides a breakthrough for me. If I need immersion and it's not coming, I turn to my playlists.

  2. I thought you'd like that song, Vaughn! I am so jealous that Therese and Sean saw them live.

    I have to compose in silence, but the music is still there in my head.


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