Music and the Moment

Click over and listen to this little sound clip for a moment.

Did you hear that sound? I call it the chickadee teeter-totter call. Forever I had only associated the “chickadee-dee-dee-dee” call as their song and did not know that the seesaw one was also theirs. Every time I hear that call, I immediately plunge into a memory of summer as a young girl, helping my mother hang laundry on the clothesline to dry. I can smell the air, feel the breeze, and hear the slight creak of the line as we turn it to the next side (it was a stand-alone structure that looked a bit like a tree).

Every time.

I love that memory, so that is probably why it persists. Clearly I don’t want to let it go. I’ve written before about how I develop playlists to help me write and that I can listen to some songs over and over again for a long time. Kind of like little kids can watch the same movie a billion times and read the same picture book multiple times every day. And when I offer that comparison, maybe that provides some insight into why it’s not just any song with the same style that can work, but it has to be specific ones that bring me into a character or a scene.

Often it’s new stuff that’s coming out on the radio, but old stuff makes it in there, too. I kind of love when I’m listening to the radio, or Pandora, or watching an old TV show and the perfect song comes on that I’d forgotten about. Sometimes it just makes me think of a particular scene, other times is just has the right tone altogether. Lyrics, of course, also play a big role.

The other day, I burned my current playlist for my most recent novel that I’m working on, thinking that it was about time I tried to start concentrating on it. Popped the disc into the CD player on a drive a few days ago and BAM, it thrust me right into thoughts of my characters. To use a recent, trendy phrasing, I was suddenly ready to write the hell out of my new story, which was a great feeling.

Music that fits my character does not always mean it is the same music that my characters actually like and would listen to. Problematically, I am not as good at translating the specificity of music in my writing. In one of my novels, music plays a vital role for my main character, but it’s often difficult finding titles that I think would truly reflect my characters’ interests vs. my own. Fortunately, I like to listen to a lot of different things, but I still have a hard time separating myself from that process, so when I do insert a title, an artist, or whatever, it feels a bit contrived. However, I persist, because if music is such a powerful emotional stimulant for me, then it’s seems it should be for my characters – and therefore, my readers – too.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe knowing what a character listens to is not a necessary aspect of development. Maybe it really is all actions and words. Maybe a reader’s connection to a book or character through music is not what the character listens to, but what a reader was listening to at the time.

What do you think? Is there a song that brings you back to a character or book? Why?

One of the ways some music has joined the ranks of my latest novel’s playlist has been through old TV shows. While re-watching a Season 1 episode of Bones, Starsailor’s song, “Some Of Us” came on, and with apologies to my fellow Bones pals, this song no longer reminds me of that episode. It now belongs to my characters. 😀

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5 Responses to Music and the Moment

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    nerd alert: Every time I listen to INXS Kick, I’m taken back to a set of characters that I loved reading about in high school: Alpha Flight (Marvel comic series). Every. Time. Of course, it’s because I blasted that album while I read those comics, but my brain made the connection. The same is true of the Riverdance soundtrack and “Jurassic Park” (the book). I suppose they’re just association memories (the two happened at the same time), but, again, my brain made connections that seemed to make sense to me.


  2. Jen (@JSQ79) says:

    I love this about you. I’ve always connected songs to stories, even when I was little. I have this on-going argument with my husband where I try to make him understand that it’s not that I think all of the songs on my Ipod are high quality…it’s just that they remind me of a story. I want to see the new playlist, please!


  3. Really enjoyed this post, especially because I find the process works with writing too: recently I’ve been tapping into my characters’ passions by listening to the soundtrack from Les Miserables and am amazed at how well it works! There is definitely a connection between music and stories, likely because they both have the potential to evoke so much emotion! 😀


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