In the book I'm working on, the current task is layering more emotion into the story, which is something I think the book needs to take it to the next level. Part of the story involves teenagers falling in love for the first time, as seen through the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl, and given that I'm pretty mellow even for an adult my age, I'm having to really, really ramp up the emotional levels to accurately convey teenagers being emotional. I have to go rather far back in time to remember what it's like to fall in love for the first time, with all the hope and angst that goes with it (it doesn't help that the first five or six times I fell madly in love, it was unrequited and in some cases was a total crush from afar).
I thought music would be a good trigger, so I pulled up my "Swooningly Romantic" playlist on iTunes. All but one song on it was sung by a male. I know that the sentiments being expressed could come from anyone, but it's still hard to use a song to get into the headspace of a girl falling in love when it's sung by a baritone. So I dug up an old mix tape I made for driving between home and the university. One side of it is labeled "romantic favorites," and again, all but one song is sung by a man or involves a group with a male lead singer (heavy on the Survivor, Styx and Kansas -- this was the 80s). I guess my idea of romantic is being sung to by a man who is expressing his deepest feelings for me. Makes sense.
There were more songs by female singers on the general favorites mixes, but none of them were about falling in love or being in love. They were all about love gone wrong -- the breakup songs, in general. I guess I like the idea of a man expressing his feelings to me, but if it's a song from my point of view, it's about how love sucks, which may say something psychologically about me if I can't identify with being in love without being hurt. But then I dug up another mix tape, this one my "sing along" tape. Since I'm a soprano and I live in a townhouse where I share walls with neighbors, I try to be polite and do most of my really big, loud, soprano singing in the car, so I put together a whole tape of great musical theater songs to sing with. You'd think that Broadway musicals would provide lots of great love songs sung by women, right?
Oddly enough, no. Not outside of duets. Most of the big, passionate, dramatic songs for men are love ballads, but most of the big, passionate, dramatic songs for women seem to be about love gone wrong, or else they're about a situation. Take Camelot -- the man sings "If Ever I Would Leave You" (sigh!). The woman sings "I Loved You Once in Silence" (in other words, "That was a bad idea") and "Before I Gaze at You Again" (in other words, "It's so over"). Les Miserables has all those great power ballads, but the more romantic songs for the women are "I Dreamed a Dream" (in other words, "Well, that relationship ruined my life") and "On My Own" (in other words, "Like he'd ever notice me"). The big, emotional song in Phantom of the Opera is about Christine's relationship with her father. Moving to something a little more recent, The Scarlet Pimpernel, there's the male song "Where's the Girl?" (swoon!) which is sort of about love gone wrong, but boils down to "I want you back" while the woman's song is "When I Look at You" (in other words, "Boy, did you change after the wedding"). The big, powerful female ballad in Ragtime is "Back to Before" (another "It's so over"). The romantic female solo in Wicked is "I'm Not That Girl" (another "Like he'd ever notice me"). Going back to classics again, My Fair Lady has a guy singing "On the Street Where You Live," while her "I Could Have Danced All Night" is in context more about the situation than about her feelings for a particular person.
I only found a few really good female love songs in my musical theater collection. There's "If I Were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls and there are a couple of good ones in The Music Man. Stretching the definition of musical theater, we also get "Under Your Spell" from the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though in context it's actually bittersweet because we know the spell is literal and it will soon cause a complete meltdown).
Most of the tracks on the female pop albums I have seem to be of the "love gone wrong" variety. That could be self-selected, as my pop music taste tends toward the moody female singer/songwriter, a la Sarah McLachlan (a lot of "love is bittersweet") and Tori Amos (a lot of "men suck"), but even in the relentlessly perky and bouncy ABBA music, most of the songs are about love gone wrong. Madonna does have one or two love ballads, and then there are a few by the Captain and Tennille (shut up). Otherwise, my male singer bias continues, as most of my music collection involves male singers (I may be a soprano, but I'm really not crazy about listening to them). Really, aside from musical theater, most of my music collection is jazz, which doesn't fit this book. There's something too mature and mellow about even the hottest jazz to underscore teen love. Jazz is sultry, or else is more the comfortable love of an enduring relationship -- when it's not about, you guessed it, love gone wrong.
I was able to find, by going through my whole music collection, enough songs to get a decent playlist (though it's still woefully lacking in female POV songs) that matches the mood of the book, and just going through that exercise triggered some pretty vivid imagery that I think will spill over well into the writing. That's largely the point of the soundtrack exercise. I get as much out of the process of considering possible selections and mentally matching them to the story to see if it triggers anything as I do out of actually listening to the completed soundtrack.