The Music of My Prose: How Music Inspires Writing

Music and booksIt’s the MUSIC that provides the emotion I need to drive my passion for the characters and the story line.

I remember reading the interview of an author– I want to say Stephenie Meyers– in which the author stated they listened to a variety of music while writing their manuscript (I want to say it was Twilight). Anyway, the author lists about five bands and musicians who helped “inspire” the piece.

My first thought was: How could you concentrate with all that music in your ear as you wrote?!

Until I heard RED’s “Lie To Me (Denial)” on their 2011 Until We Have Faces album (do we still call them albums?)

I was in the midst of writing my very first novel  I’d christened “Striving After Wind”, a historical piece set in post-Civil War Indiana about a former slave trying to find her true freedom while battling a gun club that wants to take her property. Every time I heard “Lie to Me”, I saw the complete trailer of my manuscript play out before my eyes. Each verse, the hook, the bridge, all of it seemed to match the emotion I’d wanted to convey throughout the manuscript.

But that wasn’t all.

I found other songs that expressed the personality of my characters or wrote scenes for me. I heard Maxwell’s “Stop the World” during an intimate scene between my two main characters. Alex Clare’s “I Won’t Let You Down” could open my novel perfectly. Hearing these songs always put me in the mood to write because they evoked images– the next scene, the dialogue, the plot– that made me WANT to write.

It became so easy to finish the novel because, whenever I got stuck, I just had to put on that music to get me back in my characters’ heads, remind me of who they are and what they should be doing in the story.

But now I’m stuck.

For the past couple of months I’ve been struggling with my second work-in-progress. This one is a historical fantasy about an angel stuck on earth during the Prohibition Era. While I enjoyed doing the research and learning about life in my hometown during Prohibition (not the best place for an angel trying to avoid becoming a demon), putting the story on the page had become arduous after the first two chapters. It wasn’t until I heard RED’s “Fight Inside”– yes, I love RED– from their 2009 Innocence & Instinct CD (CD… that sounds better) that I heard my main character.

I’ve listened to this song over and over, and it’s helped me understand my main protagonist.

Now I just need to find more music to keep me in the story. And I’m not talking about listening to music from the era. I watched The Jazz Singer and The Roaring Twenties to give me images. But it’s the MUSIC that provides the emotion I need to drive my passion for the characters and the story line, especially if it’s a character that I cannot actually relate to.

If you’re a writer, what techniques do you use to help your writer’s block?

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About Michelle McGill-Vargas

Michelle hails from Gary, Indiana where she enjoys writing historical fiction, flash fiction, and short stories. Her writings have appeared in "Lutheran Witness", "Splickety Magazine", "The Copperfield Review", and "Typehouse Literary Magazine." She also currently serves as interim vice-president of the Indiana Writers' Consortium. Until the day her historical fiction manuscripts get published, she pays the bills as a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. Read her short stories at www.shortfictionbreak.com and visit her blog at www.michellemcgillvargas.wordpress.com
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5 Responses to The Music of My Prose: How Music Inspires Writing

  1. krystal jane says:

    Music definitely helps me out sometimes! If I’m feeling blocked, taking a break usually helps. Also, talking about it with someone usually helps a lot as well. I try to make playlists for all my stories now, too. I usually can’t listen to very much music when I write, though I do sometimes find THAT song that I just can’t turn off, but if I’m feeling uninspired, I can just relax and play my playlist and it always invokes something. 🙂

  2. Normansrose6659 says:

    Hi Michelle, I like the idea of being inspired by music. I’m not a writer, but it still makes sense to me. I also want to wish you and Jose a belated Happy 8th anniversary and also Happy Birthday to you and Carmelle. I don’t have her current address. Love you lots! Your Godmother Helen

  3. Damyanti says:

    I don’t usually get writer’s block– I just power through it. I call it ‘difficult days’ — and usually take to editing, non-fiction writing, or reading– all of which feed back into writing. I have taken complete breaks from writing while grieving for friends and family I’ve lost, but that’s been rare, thankfully

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