Hearing Your Story

Writing a new story is like inhabiting a new world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing about high school crushes or aliens or high school crushes on aliens, there are strangers you’ve never met, unfamiliar landscapes, traditions you don’t yet understand. And the trick is, you don’t just need to get to know this new world, you have to make it come to life in full technicolor glory.

Some people suggest that when writing crucial scenes in your book, you should employ at least three out of the five senses. As in: “Sara listened to the computer hum impatiently while she tried to think of a good example. She stalled, grimacing as she took a gulp of bitter coffee-gone-cold. The shiny, smooth keys of her computer beckoned her to be brilliant, but alas, she wrote this instead.”

TDiorama mess!his is a great technique and I like to expand it to the story creation process. Because unless the world feels real to you, in all five senses, it’s not going to feel real to the reader. Bringing your fiction into the physical world anchors you in your character’s voice and setting in a way that nothing else does. So in the past I’ve talked about building dioramas, collecting shoe boxes full of stuff my character loves, and, most importantly for me, finding a soundtrack to my story.

In my last project, I incessantly listened to the soundtrack to Battlestar Galactica, letting its Taiko drums and wailing flutes build tension and tone in my writing space. I can’t help but feel that the words are infused with a sense of that music, much like honey is flavored by the flowers that bees visit.

Sigur Ros So when I started a new story, I felt lost without music for my new world. I started avidly listening to the radio, asking friends what they were listening to, paying attention to soundtracks in movies. At the same time, I was searching for the voice of my main character. For a while, writing was frustrating, my words feeling more like an outline than a book. Then I found Sigur Ros.

This Icelandic band has a raw tone that feels bleak and wistful and, occasionally, soaringly hopeful. The first song I heard by them stunned me. I could literally see one of my key scenes unfolding in my mind. It was like being given a key to this world I had been circling and spying on for so long. Suddenly, I could walk with my character through the streets of my story. Amazingly, when my husband heard the same song later, he had the same experience. For weeks I’d been talking about this world, about this character, bouncing ideas off of him, and this song triggered the same emotions in him as it did in me.  Now I could not only visualize my world, I could hear it too. And in the space of one song, my story had come to life.

10 thoughts on “Hearing Your Story

  • i remember my first high school alien crush. the memories are still bittersweet.

    this is an amazing post, and it made me remember why i love listening to music so much while i work. and i’m so glad you found sigur ros! it sounds exactly like your book :)

  • I love this post. I listen to music constantly, and it informs me whenever I am creating…not matter if it is design, writing, baking or something else.

    Also, I ADORE Sigur Rós! If you haven’t heard it, check out the lead singer Jonsi’s solo album GO. It’s equally fantastic. It’s more upbeat than Sigur Rós’ stuff, while still sounding epic.

  • I _have_ heard GO and I love it! One of Jonsi’s songs is the credit music to How To Train a Dragon… which I also love:) So I became a fan. It’s actually most likely how I found my way to Sigur Ros, now that I think about it.

    GO is a little too upbeat for writing to and some of the words are in English, so that doesn’t quite work for me. But it’d perfect for baking an epic pie;) By the way, I always try to put on appropriate accompany music whenever I’m cooking something. So it’ll be infused with just the right flavors:)

  • I love this tip – finding the music for each book really gets me in the mental place for writing it – I love knowing that it’s something other writers do as well! There’s a tone thing that when you nail it, it’s so great… And funny, I’ve found I listen to the same song so many times, just to get myself back in that space!
    Thanks for sharing this, (and now I have to go listen to some Sigur Ros to see what you’re up to!)

  • The tone of one song totally helps me write the short story. Funny thing is, the stories are too much alike. :o) Now I know I need a different song for each one.
    Thank you so much.

  • Monique… I love this idea that listening to the same song while writing would produce the same story:) I bet it’s a wonderful story though and a wonderful tone!

  • Oh my goodness . . . I cannot write without the soundtrack to my novel playing! And I post-process photos to music, too! It’s just like Lee said, above: when the tone of what you’re creating matches the tone in the music, you feel it. (It definitely affects how the photos turn out!!)

    I love the idea of music doing the same for pies and cookies, too. Mmm. It only makes sense!!

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