The Hunger Games. Twilight. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Imagine each of these based-on-the-book movies without the kick-ass sountrack that accompanied it. How early did song selection really begin on these projects? In some cases, pretty darn early – even during the writing process of the book! (Okay, the first two examples maybe not so much, but Perks especially draws on the musical influences of its characters in the book, Charlie being the mix tape fan that he is!)
The point is, compiling the soundtrack to your novel can help you move from word #1 to word #70,000. In my last post, I discussed the benefits of approaching your novel like a screenplay to help with outlining scenes and forming structure. Watching my book play out like the rough cut of a movie helps keep me moving toward that final act. Taking the comparison one step further, I also find it helpful to create a playlist of songs that complement the scenes I’m writing. Think of it as “Blades of Grass: Original Soundtrack Recording.” In a perfect world the little sticker on the CD packaging would read, “With 2 original songs by music legend Cyndi Lauper!” (Kids, CDs are those silver discs your parents stuff into the dashboard of the car.)
But I digress.
The point is, along with plotting your scenes like the pages of a screenplay, choose the songs that would serve as a score to the movie of your book, and it’ll help you elicit the emotional response needed in each scene.
In Blades of Grass, one of my protagonists, Ben, is nursing a broken heart after being dumped by his longtime partner, Avery. I needed a song that spoke to that “I hate your guts but totally still love you” feeling we all get when we’re kicked to the curb. I came across “Lawnmower” by City Lights and it perfectly describes Ben’s state of mind about that failed relationship. (And how appropriate that it’s called “Lawnmower,” right?) Here’s a snippet:
Not bad, eh? I also like to envision what the opening credits would look like if my book were a movie. What would be happening as the names rolled across the screen? What song would introduce us to this world and these characters? The book begins with Ben having recently moved into the picket-fenced and manicured lawns of suburbia. He hasn’t met Taylor yet, but he’s aware there is a kid nearby who mows neighborhood lawns…and he’s grateful for it, having never cut one blade of grass in his life. Cue up “Lawnmower Man” by Bruce McCabe and I see those credits rolling!
I promise not every song on my ever-expanding Blades of Grass playlist has the word “lawnmower” in it, but it’s a good place to start. Other tracks include songs by the likes of Bob Dylan (because Ben’s a big fan), Edie Brickell, the Lumineers, Shovels & Rope, Angus Stone and Sam & Ruby. That’s the current roster, anyway. Don’t be afraid to change it up if a better tune strikes your fancy or a scene takes a different direction altogether.
And on days when the story just isn’t flowing for me, I open the playlist on my phone and play it through until I’m inside Ben’s or Taylor’s head and can get back to business.
Writers: Am I alone in this? What songs are on the playlist for your current project?