There are two main types of writers in the world: those who need absolute silence when they are putting words on the page, and those who can’t create anything without a little bit of background noise, whether it’s coffee shop chatter or their favorite songs on repeat.
I say two main types, because I’ve actually been both. Right now, I need a quiet environment to concentrate on my work. But during my misbegotten youth, I couldn’t function without my carefully curated playlist.
When it came to writing creatively, I tended to listen to classical music – Beethoven and Mozart especially – or lose myself in the seamless, ethereal repetition of Gregorian chant. I was a nerd, okay? I’ve made my peace with it.
Music set the tone for my characters, inspired my landscapes, and soothed my anxieties when some bit of plot wouldn’t click into place. Silence during the creative process seemed unnatural and unnerving in some way – like those moments in a movie when you realize the soundtrack has stopped, the only noise is the ragged breathing of the main character or the furtive footsteps of the serial killer, and something very bad is about to happen to someone you like.
The comparison to movies isn’t anything new, of course. I know a lot of authors who listen to music while writing specifically because they view their novels like films that just happen to be printed on a page.
These authors would scribble song titles in the margins if they could – I’m sure some probably do in their rough drafts – and get frustrated when it becomes difficult to directly translate the sights, sounds, and unspoken gestures of a visual scene into a written one.
The difficulties of going the other way, from book to screen, are well-known to anyone who has been disappointed by a film adaptation of their favorite story.
The cinematic approach isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s perfect for many types of stories. Thrillers and romances, of course, rely on a film-like progression of actions and a sharply delineated character development arc that fits right in with what you would expect from the movies. Certain sci-fi and fantasy styles also very episodic, and mesh well with visually-driven entertainment.
The serializable nature of many popular speculative fiction books and movies (and the many crossover content streams available from properties like the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, for example) shows just how must interplay there can be between media types.
Sure, many of the novelizations or TV pilots or seven-part film sagas are just about making money for the production company that owns the story rights. I’m not saying it’s always a great thing.
But it speaks to the general cultural perception that many books could easily be movies, and movies are sometimes just visual books, and both types of stories often rely very heavily on similar conventions to highlight character traits, set up plot points, and prepare their readers/viewers for what’s going to happen next.
The point is that many popular fiction titles are very strongly informed by the way movies work, and that often includes the fact that authors tie particular songs to particular characters in order to paint a mood or capture a feeling.
I don’t think my novels are overly cinematic, but I do the soundtrack thing, too, even if I never meant to.
It wasn’t until I had written and published The Last Death of Tev Chrisini that I realized some of my new favorite songs fit in with certain characters so well that it was almost eerie. I’m sure there was a subconscious thing going on, but it’s still weird to realize it.
After I wrote The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, I came across a handful of songs that matched the plot and tone of the novel almost exactly, which further freaked me out.
By the time I got around to starting Dark the Night Descending, I had moved away from listening to music while writing, but also embraced the idea that collecting a soundtrack as I went on wasn’t such a bad idea. After all, the title of the book was inspired by an Iron & Wine song, so it was only natural that music would play a role in the rest of it.
The Paderborn Chronicles are a little darker and grittier than my first books. I started the series after a very rough period in my life, wherein I lost some of my illusions about the fundamental goodness of the human spirit and gained some new perspectives on what purpose novels should serve in the grand scheme of things.
These books address some difficult themes for me, and there is plenty of brutality to go around, both given and received. It’s a very dangerous world filled with selfish, cruel, ruthless people (and not-quite-people), and happily-ever-afters are not easy to come by. That isn’t to say no one can find redemption, but it’s a little harder than in some of my earlier works.
The music is a little sharper, too. So as I get ready to release Dark the Chains of Treason, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the songs that have shaped the series so far.
In no particular order, here are a few of my favorites:
All these links will take you to Amazon’s music service, which will only let you hear a preview (unless you’re a Prime member) instead of the whole song. As an independent artist myself, I like to make sure people get paid for their works, please do buy them legitimately from Amazon, iTunes, or elsewhere if you decide that one of them strikes a chord.