What’s Your Tune?


It may be a little old hat to say music is a great source of inspiration. You know that already. Or do you?

Maybe you’re a writer who absolutely can’t write without noise in the background. Or maybe you’re one who can’t write a single word unless you’re submerged in utter silence. Personally, I fall somewhere between the two extremes. I like writing to music sometimes, but it has to be the right stuff, usually instrumental or mellow. The Vitamin String Quartet is my current favorite for writing. It’s peppy and interesting enough that I don’t feel like I’m in an elevator or dentist office, and yet its noninvasiveness keeps it in the background instead of impeding my thoughts. (Pandora free online radio is my top method of listening since I can pick the music I want and skip any songs I don’t like. You should check it out, if you haven’t already.)

Style, Lyrics or Other?

Some writers are greatly influenced by the style of music they listen to: the feel of songs help them create scenes with a similar mood. Kind of like how a movie soundtrack helps drive the plot. Others are influenced more by lyrics. Courtney Cantrell has a book called Colors of Deception in which one of the characters, a demon, is obsessed with the lyrics of INXS.

Music influences my writing somewhat less directly. It’s during the development of a story, when the characters and plot are frequently on my mind, that I’m open to receive nuggets of inspiration – no, more that I’m searching for them like buried treasure. (And those nuggets are no less valuable than a chest of gold, I’m convinced.)

Inspired by Music

I’ve talked about Thinking Time in the past, and honestly, my most fruitful thinking time comes when I am “thinking” in the midst of…something, in one particular case, music. When I was plotting my novel for last year’s National Novel Writing Month (the second book in the Flawed series), I got a key piece of the plot from listening to Snow Patrol. My protagonist needed a big event. I had determined he needed to get hurt. But I just hadn’t pinpointed how. I heard the song “Headlights on Dark Roads” (click to listen to a sample) one day when I was in the car pondering my story.

For once I want to be the car crash
Not always just the traffic jam
Hit me hard enough to wake me
And lead me wild to your dark roads

Headlights before me
So beautiful, so clear
Reach out and take it
‘Cause I’m so tired of all this fear

Bam! Suddenly I knew what had to happen. Not just what, but how. It was perfect. Not only that, but the song so well captured my protagonist’s emotions . I won’t tell you what happens in the story. You’ll just have to read the book. (I know. Evil, aren’t I?)

I’ve realized that when I’m working on a writing project, it’s beneficial to expose myself to many types of music, to get outside of my own iTtunes library bubble. I enjoy searching for connections between songs and my stories. And sometimes when I’m stuck, the music is that little push I needed to get things moving again.

How has music influenced your writing? Do you get inspired in your writing time or in your thinking time? And what artists are you listening to that I should check out?

6 thoughts on “What’s Your Tune?

  • Thanks for the mention, Becca. 🙂

    Yes, for Colors and for its sequel, Shadows after Midnight, I immersed myself in the music of INXS. Dante has very specific tastes. ; )

    But for the third book, Stains of Grace, I went a different direction. The story itself isn’t dark, per se — but it has some pretty dark undertones. Suddenly, I was listening to Apocalyptica, Pantera, Rob Zombie, and the harder tunes of Linkin Park. None of which is music I’ve ever listened to before in my whole life!

    But the story called for it. I don’t know why, but it did. And I think the story is stronger for having those subterranean musical influences.

  • Hell Bent for Leather was born initially from the song Ghost Riders in the Sky. There were many other spices, but that song was the stock of the stew.

    I also created a playlist of Marty Robbins, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hugo Montenegro, and Johnny Cash just for writing that book. It helped a lot.

    I recently did a story outline for a very hardboiled, unpleasant crime story and took a couple of the characters and a sliver of plot from a song by Ghostface Killa called Pimpin’ Chipp.

    Not long ago I would have said music didn’t really inspire my writing. It would have been a lie then, but I’ve only figured that out recently. It’s opening up some very interesting new ideas.

    • Very cool, Josh.

      I know how you feel about music influencing your writing on a subconscious level. I wouldn’t have said music had directly inspired my first book, but once the story was finished, I had come up with a collection of songs that I now consider the playlist for the book.

      Thanks for sharing about your stories!

  • Music influences my writing so much! Each of my characters has different bands that they listen to. I have a nice mix of these bands’ songs on a playlist for when I write on their story. I also had a Pandora station for each character, but then I got hooked on the antagonist’s sister’s music (Green Day and Flogging Molly) and it got my brain out of wack.
    It’s usually the style of the music that gets me in the mood, but sometimes a particular lyric will stick out to me and I go: “Yes! I must include that in the story!”

    • Cool.

      It’s interesting to see how music and writing often go hand in hand for so many people.

      I hadn’t thought of making each character a Pandora station. That’s a fun idea.

      Thanks for your comment!

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