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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Music and writing

Does music influence your writing? I know there’s been some discussion of this before, but I’d really like to know just how much influence it has. And for readers, do you respond to music references in the stories you read?

I can’t write at all if I have music playing too loudly nearby. Music in my head is another matter. That’s a given. I’m liable to get one tune going for two weeks or more, and that can drive me crazy or else be quite consoling. If it gets too noisy up there I deliberately listen to a tape or two until another song takes over. Then the new tune runs around upstairs there for another two weeks or so.

What I really like to do it put music in my books so it influences my characters. I do that a lot. Choir music in a cathedral, loud swinging music at a nightclub of the 20’s, a hero singing a love song to his beloved. I’ve used those and more, being very careful of the copyrights. 75 years or more older and using the words is generally safe. Only ran into one case where my editor took it out, and that was a quote from a tune that exactly fit the mood. Seems it was still in copyright, but I would have loved to have used it. If in doubt I merely reference the song. Then I don’t try to work in the words, even though they’d sometimes be perfect for the mood my hero or heroine is in.

Here’s an excerpt I once used that worked well. In this case I was able to use what I wanted with an acknowledgement to Cole Porter as his copy rights have lapsed. Good thing for all of us, since his songs are still popular. This is from Druid Redeemed, a runner-up for best book of that year. Devon find music stealing into his soul and waking him up to his true feelings.

“The band played slow, haunting music, deepening his mood and bringing a little measure of quiet to the audience. Priss had disappeared. He wasn’t surprised, nor did he care. The orchestra swung into some haunting stanzas he recognized and hummed under his breath.
He had it. He even knew the words. A beautiful haunting melody capable of lingering in your mind for days. Irving Berlin’s “The Song is Ended”. A new song and one he loved. He mouthed the words under his breath, even as a girl came to the microphone and sang the poignant lyrics.
“The song is ended but the melody lingers on, You and the song are gone but the melody lingers on.”
The soloist swayed to the music, seductively urging all on the dance floor to clasp their partners a little tighter.
Devon sat listening. Suddenly he knew one thing with a certainty he hadn’t enjoyed for some time. His song had indeed ended and like a fool he’d ended it himself. He’d once owned the most beautiful song in the world but one only Jocie could sing with him. He’d pushed the sole source of lasting pleasure from his life. What in Satan’s Hades had he been thinking?
The soloist swung into “And Then my Heart Stood Still”.
He sat straighter in his chair. He’d known all the time how special Jocie was. He’d refused to admit it. She didn’t fit into his long-time plans of a life of pointless pleasure. He recognized with a blaze of understanding a life without her made his future forever meaningless. The knowledge cut into him like a hot knife into butter.
Now when it might be too late the realization crashed into his very being that he was an idiotic fool. He’d held happiness cradled in his hands. He finally let down the barriers to his mind and admitted Jocie was the one he desired and needed. Needed more than he’d ever imagined he could need anyone. His soul, already shrunken past what it was meant to be, would shrivel away to nothing without her.
Devon sat rigidly at the table, the words reverberating in his mind. Had he really come to this? Only one woman mattered to him? Only one woman in all the vast array of women?
I never lived at all, until the thrill of that moment when my heart stood still.
The words seeped into his very soul. He didn’t even have to close his eyes to see Jocie, defiantly daring Sgt. Briggs to arrest her, spitting like a beautiful kitten with her cat’s eyes glaring at him. He’d known then, at that very moment and refused to admit he’d met the one woman for him. His soul had recognized hers and he’d shoved the thought away.”

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it…


Tina Donahue said...

Hey Jean - great post. Yes, music does influence my writing. When I'm stuck on a scene, not knowing what mood I'm trying to convey, I turn on my favorite songs and get lost in them. Soon the emotions are bubbling up and I know exactly where to go. :)

Molly Daniels said...

I had a hearing test once, and was placed in a soundproof booth. Suddenly, I'm hearing music in my head (not sure what the song was now) and found it hard to concentrate in order to hear the tones!

I've written to classical, soft rock, jazz, and more recently, with kiddie show theme songs in the background. Gotta have my music!

Katalina Leon said...

Beautiful post Jean. I think the descriptive mood of music adds so much to the emotional tone of a story.
I love the cover for Druid Redeemed, she looks like a real adventuress!

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks ladies, for your lovely comments. My DH teased me about the music in my head. I have one song I hate he'll hum to me when he's feeling mishievous. In spite of the noise sometimes, music means so much. Jean

April Ash said...

I have to have silence when I write...but those voices in my head may be singing and I can't stop them! I know what you mean about having a song stuck in your head.
When you think about it, even watching TV/movies, the music is there but so subtle that you almost don't "hear" it...then it may stick in your mind after.

Paris said...

I love instrumental background music when I write. I have one with ocean sounds but I have to be careful with that one, it's a little too relaxing!

Great blog, Jean:-)

jean hart stewart said...

Interesting so many writers seem to hear music? Some connection, maybe?
Thanks for commenting, ladies.

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