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Soundtracking Life

2009/11/10

Music has always played a huge role in my life, but so have words. Some of my earliest memories involve books and music.

I started reading at a fairly young age, somewhere around three years old. My parents aren’t entirely sure exactly when I started reading, because it was such an organic process for me, and not something I was really ever taught. My folks believed heavily in reading to all of us kids, even when we were little. I’m fairly certain we had the entire Little Golden Books catalog, and I know my brothers had every single Richard Scarry book published at that time. But the books I really remembered as a small child were the Read-A-Long books I used with my handy dandy Walt Disney Mickey Mouse  Record Player.

mickeyrecord

PeterWolfRAL

See, I was a HUGE Disney fan when I was little. Heck, I’m still a fan of classic Disney (the new stuff just doesn’t seem to have the heart anymore). So, my folks could count on at least an hour of not having to figure out what to do with me by setting up the record player and taking down a couple of these little gems. And by having my own record player, I would never again climb inside their console stereo system to “get the music out.”

Perhaps it was my early introduction to stories with a soundtrack that made the connection between words and music for me, but I will almost never read in the silence. There must be music, and the music must fit with the words on the page. This has since transferred over into my writing. When I write there is always music, and it is always tailored to what I am writing.

I was reminded of the importance music has on my writing when one of my favorite authors was discussing how she put together the playlists she includes in her series of books. There was also a discussion with some other writers that brought this topic to mind. It was about how to get oneself ready to write, especially when dealing with a difficult scene/chapter . That was when I realized, it’s not even just what you’re writing, it’s who you’re writing. Just like in the movies, every character has their own theme music.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go through life with our very own theme music? People would always know it was you, and what kind of mood you were in, just by the tone and pacing of your own private theme. Some people even go so far as to make up themes for the characters in their lives, and just play it inside their heads when they are around. Not that I know anyone who does this (insert angelic expression here).

Important moments in my life also revolve around music. I can vividly recall my grandfather introducing me to the world of Big Band music via Tommy Dorsey, or as I called it, songs without singers. My mother playing us her old 45’s to teach my brother and I how to dance for a  sock hop. My great grandmother humming the Old Rugged Cross and Nearer My God to Thee as she cooked in the kitchen, or made the beds. Learning how to play unusual songs on the bells (it’s a walking xylophone) in drum corps. The great sense of accomplishment I had the first time I was able to finger the banjo fret board without any buzz playing Skip to My Lou. How heavy synthesizer music reminds me of all the colors I was able to make my hair with the aid of Jello in the 80’s. And a thousand other moments, each with their own soundtrack playing in my head.

So, it stands to reason that if so many of the moments of my own life have musical cues, then so too would the characters in my writing. I find that the music has to be changed, depending the point of view I am trying to convey. In that respect, I am soundtracking their lives, making their memories come to life with a song.

Next time you get stuck writing a difficult scene, try to imagine the theme music for your character(s), or something to match the mood you are attempting to express with words. It really is amazing how effortlessly the words can flow when they have the right rhythm leading them home.

Good luck and happy writing!

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