Writing Music

And no, from the title, I don’t even know how to read music, let alone write it. They just look like a bunch of squiggles that go up and down, and my wife always cringes when I try to sing along with the hymns in church.  I’m talking about the music I listen to as I write.

I always listen to music as I’m writing. I find that it helps me set the mood. The most common playlist sets the mood entitled “Owen punches monster in face”. But anyone who’s read my stuff shouldn’t be surprised that my action sequences are fueled by a constant stream of heavy metal.

Many writers won’t listen to music while they’re working, because they say that the music influences them. That’s cool. Others say that they will, but only music like classical or soundtrack themes that don’t have words. Personally for me, it doesn’t matter, since it is just kind of in the background.

I got to thinking about this subject because my kids bought me $50 of Itunes for my birthday. I purchased the latest Disturbed album (Owen Z. Pitt’s favorite band), the soundtrack from the movie 300, a bunch of Hans Zimmer (including the superb Black Hawk Down soundtrack, Last Samurai, and some from Gladiator).  Some Mogwai (check out the Miami Vice soundtrack for some of the most awesome prog-rock mood setting ever, plus how can you not love somebody with a song called Glasgow Mega Snake?)

There is a scene in MHI:2 that exists because of the Disturbed song Darkness. A major blow is struck, people have died. It is sad, haunting, and it made me want to cry writing it. (and no, I won’t tell you who dies).

I discover that as I write, individual characters will pick up theme songs.  Lorenzo from the Dead Six books has best been described as a self-absorbed, godless, narcissist. He’s a jerk and a scumbag, but he’s trying hard to do what he thinks is best. He has his own peculiar, violent, sense of honor. At some point in time No Such Thing as Nothing by Chris Cornell became his song. When I first heard the lyrics, I realized that it was written for him, and when we make the movie, it is in the closing credits. Though his favorite song is War Pigs by Black Sabbath. No, I didn’t plan it that way either. He’s a classic metal kind of guy. 

Mike’s POV character, Valentine, gets .45 from Shinedown. Song Ling, from the same series (originally a character of Mike’s but we’ve both written her), gets Flower of Carnage from Kill Bill. It goes on and on.  My half of Dead Six runs on vaguely middle-eastern sounding movie soundtracks and classic rock.

I was in a bit of a quandary when I started Grimnoir. I had no music from the 20s and 30s, but my old pal, Pirate Bob, came through for me with his massive music collection. Only I discovered that it is really hard to write to 20s-30s music. I suppose I’m just a child of my time, but I just can’t get into that age, though it did help me better understand the feel of the world. (that and rereading the collected works of Raymond Chandler, another accountant turned writer!) 

So the main character from The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic gets the theme song of Only the Strong, by Flaw. And once you read him, you’ll understand why.  As decent as I can make myself, in time, we all know, that only the strong survive.  He’s a hard man in a tough time, and he’ll do the right thing, no matter how many bodies he has to stack up in the process.

I find that music can be a valuable tool for a writer. I’ve got about 20 hours of songs that form my core writing list, and those are broken into action scenes, quiet time, contemplation time, romance (which is my weak spot to be sure), and Other.

Capping Trade, it's just like capping knees
Jib Jab presents He's Barack Obama

7 thoughts on “Writing Music”

  1. John Ringo has for several books published song-lists that accompany books, often broken up by chapter. I’ve tried reading a chapter here and there with the suggested music, and while I can’t really divide my attention enough to do so, I’ve seen other people rave that it adds to their reading experience.

  2. Yeah,

    What JohnOC said. From Ringo I’ve come to appreciate The Cruxshadows and Within Temptation. Heck, I even have a couple of Dragonforce songs on my Ipod.
    I can’t wait for MHI.

  3. There’s other music involved, as Larry implied. “Barra Barra” from the Blackhawk Down soundtrack works in a portion of the book.

    In the movie (that will inevitably be made once we’re rich and famous), there’ll be a montage at the beginning. Intro: The World in Flames. The theme is “When the Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash.

    There’s a short montage-y scene at the end of the movie, too. The song will be “Snow” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and this will roll into Chris Cornell as the credits begin.

    Unfortunately, I can’t share that visual, as it’ll be a big-time spoiler. I will say, however, that it involves a yacht, a tropical sunset, and a small, windowless prison cell. 🙂

  4. Funny that you should mention Disturbed: “Indestructible” has been adopted by Chief as the unofficial BACA theme, as it describes our kids so well…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *