The Power of Playlists

In the past month I’ve had opportunity for good chunks of solo drive time. As in 5+ hours. I enjoy driving on my own. It’s quiet time in spite of however loud I might play my music. You can imagine what I mean by “quiet”… no specific schedule to keep, no demands from others, you can stop as often or as little as you like, eat when you want, play whatever music you want as loud as you want. It’s that alone time quiet, the kind that allows your brain to release expectations and wander its own roads.

Because I’m not hip enough to have an iPhone or iPod, I still burn CDs for the car. I frequently create one that has the most recent playlist for my WIP because it keeps my characters active in my head, even when away from the keyboard. For these recent trips, I decided to bring all my characters back to life (not that they ever fade away, obvs.) by burning new CDs for each book I’ve written. Win-win since not only do I love the music from each playlist, but I love the emotions they evoke for my beloved characters.

Truly, music is fantastic for this emotional pull. Play Eric Carmen’s “Make Me Lose Control” and I’m 17 and sitting in the passenger seat of a car driven by a guy I had a hopeless crush on for a whole summer. “Fugitive” by the Indigo Girls brings me right back to one of my West Ridge Middle School classrooms in Austin, TX complete with morning sickness as I was pregnant with my first child. (I don’t actually know why this song is so prevalent given the album came out five years earlier, but I guess we only just bought it then?)

If I had to pick a “theme song” for each of my books I’ve written, I’d have a hard time for my first novel, but for my second, I’d choose “Brighter Than the Sun” by Colbie Caillat”, “Nothing More” by the Alternate Routes for my third, and possibly “The Outsiders” by Needtobreathe for my current WIP.

These aren’t the ones, however, that really bring me deep down into my story and characters, though. I wrote a post several years ago about how one particular song kept me in the frame of mind for one of my stories and joked about how my husband was surely ready for the audio file to become corrupted so he’d never have to hear it again. He’d have gone crazy during one portion of my drive between Appleton, WI and St. Ignace, MI last week, even if he really likes Needtobreathe.

The song during that drive, you ask? “More Time”. I am working on some revisions on my third novel and this song hits at this story for me with a powerful emotional punch. So much so that frequently, even when I’m not trying to work out a scene, I’ll listen to it twice. This time, though, it loosened up that muse and helped me work out how to revise some opening pages and because those ideas were pouring out so well, I didn’t want to lose the momentum – that fervent flow of story. So I put the song on repeat.

I don’t even know how many times it played through, but much like Joey and Chandler from Friends didn’t want to turn their TV off when they were getting free porn because they didn’t want to risk losing it, so I felt with the way my writing ideas were coming through. (And now some of you are wondering what kind of scene I was writing in my head – hahaha.)

For some writers, they need a certain kind of music to help them write, and that same music might be the same no matter the book they’re working on. For me, the music carries a very specific connection to my characters. I love that playlists are becoming a part of an author’s “extras” after publishing a novel. Some even put them into their end notes of the book instead of just on their website. Art meets art.

As I embark upon my first ever NaNoWriMo next month, I imagine the song on repeat will be Imagine Dragons “I Bet My Life”. That’s a lot of days in a row for my family to be subjected to one song. Bless their hearts.

What about you? Tell me about songs that bring you back to some moment in time, ones that bring out all those old emotions of that event or memory. I’d really love to hear about both the song and the attached emotion or memory.

(BTW, when I mention “More Time” by Needtobreathe, I also mean this specific version. It’s slower than their original recorded version and that fits Ellie, my character, and her experience.)

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2 Responses to The Power of Playlists

  1. Nicole Roder says:

    I’d never thought about creating a playlist for my novels before! What a great idea! I’m going to have to give this some thought.

    My current WIP, Freedom City, has some pretty varied points of view. I think if you asked Christine, my protagonist, she’d probably name “I’m Proud to Be an American” as her own theme song. Clay, my antagonist, would say “Killing in the Name of” by Rage Against the Machine, even though I doubt he’s ever heard that song. (Ha! What a nonsensical thing to say about a person who only exists inside my brain.)

    As for Carol Ann, my second POV character (who might just be my favorite person who never actually lived) I’m not sure. The first song that comes to mind is “Revolution” by The Beatles, but I’m not sure that’s quite right. Hmmmm….I need to think about this. Cool post!


  2. ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

    Ah, I like how you have separate theme songs for each major character because for my current project, I definitely have songs that fit my 2 major characters and their stories differently.

    (Funny about how your antagonist hasn’t heard of his theme song – but of course it also makes sense!)


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