Kelsey Sandy
“Where words fail, music speaks.” –Hans Christian Andersen

So, I’ve been editing my novel, and my first drafts tend to be a little “bare bones.” I write too fast, trying to get all of my ideas out, to get the entire plot written. Now, some of my really crucial scenes lack atmosphere.

My novel is set in Texas is 1964, and one of my scenes takes place in a Blues Juke-Joint. I’ve never been to a Juke Joint, wasn’t even alive in the sixties, haven’t even really listened to very much blues music…how am I ever going to accurately create the atmosphere for this scene?

First, I thought maybe it would help if I drank moonshine out of a mason jar…but I didn’t get much writing done that way.

Then, I decided to listen to some blues. P.S. I loved it! But that’s not the point, the point is that listening to the music helped me to imagine my setting (first the sounds, then the rhythm, then the mannerisms of the characters, then the sights, the smells, even the tastes). I listened to the blues while I rode the bus and people-watched. I listened to the blues in my off time between classes. Then, finally, I listened to the blues while I wrote. And, I’m happy to say that I turned a bland 1.5 page scene into a 7 page scene with atmosphere!

I’ve been asked before whether or not I listen to music while I write. I always said no. I always thought it would be too distracting. And it probably would be if I were singing along to Adele or Britney Spears or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry (I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: I have terrible taste in music).

I’m not suggesting that you turn the radio on while you work. We, as writers, don’t need any more distractions. I am suggesting that you seek out music that accompanies the atmosphere you are attempting to create. I am suggesting that you create a soundtrack for your novel (or short story, or poem).

Jessica, when you write the scenes in your novel that are set on the rolling green hills of Ireland, why not play some traditional Celtic music? If your novel is set in 18th century Europe, why not play some Beethoven? Have a scene in a Catholic Church? Rock some Ave Maria.

There are many ways you can do this, but I like to use Pandora, a free online radio. You can create your own personal station beginning with a particular song or artist of your choice, or you can create a new station by choosing one of the genres (I chose 50s and 60s Blues):

Pandora Radio

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind? How has it helped or hindered you?
Labels: edit post
5 Responses
  1. Great idea about the Celtic music! My writing has been influenced before by music, but not because I was listening to it as I wrote. Mostly pop artists, which funnily enough, make the best romantic tension scenes. :)

  2. Abby Says:

    I wish I listened to music while I wrote. (Is that weird?) First, I don't have anything that I think would work to listen to right now. Second, I like to write in silence, but I have heard such great things about writing to music that I want to try it. I just have to find the time to search for some music to download that would go with my story.

  3. Annie Says:

    Haha Kelsey, your posts are so clever. Glad to hear you're making the book even longer! That way I can read it again and have more wonderful writing to devour. I for one almost always listen to music while I'm drawing. It helps me stay focused and, if I'm doing a comic, allows me to get a right feel for the atmosphere and emotion of that particular scene (as you did with your novel). Often I even find myself picking "themes" for certain characters that I think fits them best.

  4. @Abby--It's not weird because I feel the same way. I've seen a lot of authors, especially YA, who put up soundtracks to their books on their websites. I've always wanted to try it!

  5. Kelsey Sandy Says:

    That's what got me thinking about this topic. I feel like I've seen soundtrack's popping up more and more. A lot of literary journal have come out with soundtracks to accompany their issues. Who knows, maybe it'll be the next big thing in publishing! Maybe e-copies sold for Kindles and Nooks will come with soundtracks...