05 November 2012

craft tip monday 11/5: nanowrimo soundtracks

Craft Tip Monday 11/5: NaNoWriMo Soundtracks
I’ve written about writing playlists and NaNoWriMo soundtracks before, but now seems as good a time as any to return to the topic … if for no other reason than that NaNoWriMo is just starting up (using the basic daily word count break down we’re only about 9,000 words in at this point). NaNoWriMo soundtracks are a fun way to engage with your plot, characters, and thematic material through something other than the written word. If you’re like me, you like to get as deep into your characters and plot as possible: drawing them, interviewing them, writing them resumes, etc. So why not take it to another level by playing with their favorite music, or at the very least setting the sound stage for the events that transpire during the course of your novel’s action?

There are several ways to go about creating a fantastic and inspiration-based soundtrack for your NaNoWriMo novel. Here are four of them:

1: Something Old

I’ve written before about the randomized method of creating a novel soundtrack. To review: For this method, you’ll write down 15-20 general scenes that will take place during your novel (i.e., “M.C. falls in love” or “Peter buys a pet parrot”). Once you have that list, go to your music library, set the main library to “shuffle,” and select the first 15-20 songs that play without skipping, editing, or reordering any of them. This method is particularly fun because it can sometimes force you to think about your plot in very different ways. If, for instance, the scene cue you wrote down was “the funeral scene,” it could be great to get a song like Eva Cassidy’s “Songbird”. But what if you wind up with a song like Katrina & The Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine”? Force yourself to work with seemingly discordant songs: maybe “Walking on Sunshine” was someone’s favorite song. Maybe a funeral is, somehow, a happy event. Maybe a sad song is supposed to play but the funeral director makes a mistake, and the deceased family has to make the best of an awkward situation.

2: Something New

My soundtrack creation method this year was simply to select a musical genre I felt best captured my main characters’ personalities and play snippets of songs until certain ones stood out as ringing true to the character. This method can really help you get into a character’s head, because you’re actively thinking about how your character relates to a song as it plays. Create separate soundtracks for each of your main characters, and even some minor ones. Aim for around 20 songs per character, or one main “anthem” for each character. This year, for example, my two definite main characters and two possible main characters each received theme songs. See if you can get a sense of these characters through their songs:

Mikayla: Brooke Fraser’s “The Thief”

Wiles: Eminem’s “Won’t Back Down” (Clean Version)

“Fish”: Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)”

“Grizz”: Amy Winehouse’s “Some Unholy War”

3: Something Borrowed

When all else fails, borrow a soundtrack for your novel. Think about your novel’s plot and theme, and then think about your favorite film with the same theme and maybe a similar plot. There’s no crime in stealing that movie’s soundtrack as your own. You’re using it for inspiration during the writing process, not to sell books (or push your eventual, inevitable, movie deal …)

4: Something Blue(s)

… Or something R&B. Or something Folk. Think about the thematic material of your novel. What genre of music best captures those themes? If you look at a lot of modern movies with similar thematic material, you’ll notice they’ve started to tend toward similar sounding soundtracks as well. Films like Juno, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Lars and the Real Girl, and 50 Days of Summer, for example, use somewhat quirky, folksy, alternative or “Singer/Songwriter” music. Pick the genre of music that seems to fit your novel best and create a soundtrack using songs within that genre. Insert at least one song outside of the genre so that, at some point, you have a “surprise” that might help you think outside the box.

However you choose to enter your novel’s plot, thematic material, or the spaces of your characters’ personalities and lives, have fun discovering new ways to create and craft your novel’s landscape!

How do you use music when you write? Do you find it more inspiring or distracting? Share your thoughts in the comments and keep the musical conversation going!


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More resources on writing with music and novel soundtracks:


  1. Excellent suggestions for using music to drive a scene in new directions!

    I often use music to build emotion or wrap myself in a mood or frame of mind when I'm writing. I'll play Christmas music if I'm writing winter. Music from Westerns if I'm writing something with a frontier flavor. And a lot of Hans Zimmer if I'm writing a scene with a Steampunk feel.

    But actually going against the grain and using music to push a scene in a new direction rather than pull me into a particular mood, I hadn't considered. I may have to give that a go.

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks for your comments, Joe! Playing with music is always fun when it comes to setting the tone for writing; enjoy playing with pushing "against the grain" (what a great way to put it)!


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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