Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Soundtracks and Background Music

We had a substitute ballet teacher who was like an old-school strict ballet mistress last night, and I'm already sore. That's mostly because of my ingrained teacher's pet impulses that led me to work way too hard to keep from being corrected by the teacher, as she was the type to walk over and physically move the arm, leg or hand that she thought was doing something wrong and then lecture the class with you as an example. Doing ballet while being really tense from trying to be perfect will definitely leave you sore.

I moved from the bad kind of "who wrote this?" to the good kind yesterday, as I really liked the parts of the book that were essentially a first draft. They were undeveloped, but I was turning pages quickly. Now I'm wondering if the first part really is a problem or if it's just that this part was too familiar because it's the part I polished extensively. Anything you've read about a dozen times is going to be a little less interesting than something you're reading for the first time.

Now, for an Enchanted, Inc. question, since someone did ask one (yay!). The question was whether I have any particular soundtracks that I write to. There are two facets to my answer.

First, there's music to write to -- what I play in the background while writing. For the most part, I work best in complete silence. I'm not really a background noise kind of person, unless it's background noise for an unpleasant task. I may play music while doing housework, and I do some of my more boring freelance writing tasks while watching TV. Most of the time, though, I don't have anything that makes noise on in my house, especially when I'm writing. I am a musician, so music is a distraction. I can't just tune it out.

There are some exceptions, though. I may sometimes use music to create a particular mood -- like an intense action-movie soundtrack when I'm writing an action scene or romantic music for a more romantic scene. If there's some external noise that's more distracting to me than music would be -- like my neighbor's dog barking -- I may play music to distract myself. And sometimes I may use certain kinds of music to focus myself on the task at hand.

But it all depends on the book. Some books seem to need music, some need silence. I've even had a rare book that worked best when I set iTunes on shuffle and just let it run. The Enchanted, Inc. series has mostly been "silence" books. I just sat down and wrote them without any particular background music. The exception is Damsel Under Stress. That was a very difficult book for me, due to external factors. A close friend who'd been serving as my beta reader was diagnosed with cancer right around the time I started writing that book, and then she died when I was about five chapters into it. That made it really hard to dig in and focus on writing it. I think part of me thought that writing a book she wouldn't get to read would be disloyal, even though I suspect she'd have haunted me if I hadn't written it. Since I didn't yet have a signed contract, I even briefly considered backing out of the deal and ending the series because I just couldn't make myself focus on the book. What finally worked was taking the computer to another room, and I played the soundtrack from the first season of Battlestar Galactica as background noise. It's kind of ambient music designed to go in the background, and it worked to block out everything else. The down side was that that music they played during the opening to each episode (the stuff about the Cylons being created by man, evolving and having a plan) became my trigger to "work" time, so it became difficult to focus on watching episodes after hearing that music. I eventually added the Firefly series soundtrack when I got bored of listening to the same thing over and over, since it's also very ambient. That was a book that worked best writing late at night, so at about 9, I'd turn off every light in my house other than the one where I was working, put on that music, and I could shut out the rest of the world for a few hours.

There's another side of a book "soundtrack" for me, though. I do sometimes create a mix of songs that work like a musical collage for a book. There may be theme songs for the book itself or for individual characters, as well as songs that fit certain scenes, themes or moods. I'll try to create the emotional arc of the book through a series of songs. I'll listen to that during the time I'm working on a book, but not when I'm actually writing. I'll have the soundtrack in my car for when I'm driving around or I'll play it when I'm doing other things at home before I start writing. I may listen to the songs that go with certain scenes before writing those scenes.

I did soundtracks like this for the second and fourth books. Unfortunately, that was before I had a car with a CD player, so I did those as mix tapes and don't have a handy playlist to refer to, so I'm not sure I remember which songs were on those soundtracks. It's been a long time since I worked on those books. I'm not sure that knowing the songs would mean anything to anyone but me because it's about associations they trigger for me rather than anything actually in the song.

Lately, I've gotten in the habit of putting iTunes on shuffle in the background while I brainstorm a book. Sometimes a song that pops up will give me an idea for a plot development or emotional element. However, I don't think I've done that for any book in this series.

Any other questions about the series or the process of writing it?

1 comment:

Serge said...

Music definitely has various effects on the mind. For individuals like you and me, we use them for motivation. For some businesses, they use them for their own advantage to get more customers and gain profit.