Background Music

(Author’s note: I’m writing this just before I leave on my weekend trip, and I’m on very little sleep and only have half of an idea of what I was thinking when I started this post. Sorry if it loses focus!)

One of the more commonly asked questions I see floating around the writing community is “what do you listen to while you’re writing?” There’s always a huge variety of answers–perhaps unsurprisingly–and it’s a question I’ve usually always had the same answer to: “something without lyrics.” As a singer, lyrics distract me; I start singing and then I’m writing lyrics instead of my own words, and before long all I have is a transcript of Hamilton.

Which is a great show (which I’m only just now learning), but not really my books.

So what happens when all of a sudden…I have a character who won’t talk to me while I listen to my usual music?

The first of my characters to do this was Kenna from NOBLESSE OBLIGE, though she’d sometimes let me listen to something other than Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. (Proof positive that my characters and I don’t always share musical tastes.) But that was only half of the main characters in that book. Alan liked my instrumentals just fine. No, the one who really caused the problem was–of course–Alistair freakin’ Clarimond from SON OF THE REVOLUTION. Nothing I did seemed to appease him. I had to go searching through my library to find something–anything–Alistair would listen to.

Ah, the joy of being an author. This is November; I don’t have time for this nonsense.

Eventually I landed on the band Hinder, and to this day I cannot work on that book without listening to that music. (I only had two albums of theirs when I wrote that first draft. Think about that. I know those songs far too well.)

More recently, however, I’ve taken a character with deep roleplay gaming roots with me and started working on a book for him. Now, DJ is a brat but he’s a bit of a narcissist as well. He loves being written, loves being the center of attention. So what band does DJ want to listen to? It’s not just one. It’s not even just one genre. This rockstar brat has a whole Pandora station dedicated to him. (This is my “not even remotely surprised” face.) The core of the channel has three artists: Jesse McCartney, The Calling, and Shinedown. Not much in common, but I’ve always heard DJ’s own music sounding a lot like them as he progressed from young and up-and-coming artist, to the more established rocker he becomes. (Also, Jesse McCartney is pretty much exactly how I’ve always seen DJ.) From there, it starts to branch off. There’s a strong thread of Dean Winchester of Supernatural fame in DJ as well, so classic rock has a soft spot in his heart. Billy Joel shows up with some regularity, as well as the occasional Elton John. Female-driven artists like Garbage, Flyleaf, and Automatic Loveletter get a slot since they remind him of his long-time love and childhood friend. And of course, every once in a while I go to skip a song because it doesn’t seem to mesh at all, and DJ in the back of my mind just goes “nah, this can stay; I like it.”

I’ve given up trying to understand him.

He’s not quite as picky as Alistair; since he’s not the narrator of the book I’m working on, I’ve managed to be able to write him without needing to CONSTANTLY have my Pandora on. But I’m starting to wonder if maybe the words will come better if I fire it up the next time I sit down to write. Who knows. For almost ten years this boy has lived in the back of my mind, and I’ve come no closer to truly understanding every nook and cranny of his brain.

I like him that way. (And I will never be able to thank my dear friend Kaden enough for giving me a world in which he could grow and become real. I owe you so much, bro. Much love.)

What about you all? I’ve seen some authors write out full soundtracks to their novels; one of the books by Slade Grayson I read had a song at the beginning of each chapter. I’ve never managed to be that specific; if I was lucky I would get a single chapter of a fanfic to tag along with my story. (So many songs have parallels to fanfics in my head. I’ll never be able to break them apart.) Do you have soundtracks for your books? Do certain books require different music? Or are you one who only listens to one thing and one thing only? Do you sit in silence, because the music pulls you from the book? I’d love to hear. Let me know in the comments below.

Now, I think it’s time for bed. I have a long day ahead of me. Happy Monday, all.


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