Saturday, January 30, 2010

Music To Write By

I like to listen to music when I write, sometimes at decibels that can cause hearing loss.  I have even created playlists that I associate with certain characters; that expresses, for me, something about their nature, or inspires some scene involving them. 

I find that, after a while, the song itself becomes an odd mixture of background noise and inspiration.   I end up not listening to the words or individual notes, but my imagination still becomes hyperactive. 

An All-Round Favorite

A short list of my favorite pieces would have to include  All The Strange Strange Creatures , the trailer music from the new Doctor Who series.   This is a terrific piece of music that just never gets old.   It practically screams, “write an epic while listening to me”.  I can listen to it and write almost anything.

Other songs are more tied to particular scenes, often ones that I have long planned. 

The Ecstasy Of Music

Such is the case with another favorite of mine, The Ecstasy Of Gold by Ennio Morricone from the movie The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.  Not the version on the “official” soundtrack; that version just lays there and puts itself to sleep.  No, to hear the version worth listening to you must rip it from the actual movie itself.  (Or, click on the link I’ve provided above.  It takes about 40 seconds before the song starts.  It’s worth the wait.)

To me, The Ecstasy of Gold is synonymous with a scene where Tara Rihtwis is pursued closely by a pack of Gogs, led by Widukind, who in turn are being tracked by Artemis Arrowsmith.  

When the music plays I can see this scene as if it were being played in a movie theater.  I can describe it in perfect detail, probably better than I will ever be able to write it.

Moody Music

I find almost anything by The Moody Blues great to write by, but Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time), from their album To Our Children's Children's Children, holds a special place for me.   Listening to it inspired a scene that struck me as so powerful, a plot twist so unexpected, I altered my story to include it. 

The opening moments of the song made me think, completely unbidden, of someone hearing something that alarms them. For no good reason I decided it was Tara who was alarmed.  

Then the drummer hitting cymbals in the background made me think she was hearing the muffled sounds a sword fight, perhaps on the other side of a door. 

Then the music swells into a strong guitar rhythm, and in my mind’s eye she opened the door to see a room on fire.  In the center of the room are two people locked in mortal combat.  One, her beloved father, Morel Rihtwis; the other her closest friend and oft times protector, Artemis Arrowsmith. 

I had never thought about having those two characters fight until I listened to Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time).  Afterwards, I realized that their diametrically opposite worldviews made their conflict inevitable, and the result of that conflict equally inevitable.  I came to see their final clash as the pivot point from which to start bringing various plot threads to satisfying finales.

Other Music

The list goes on, and on.  So many pieces of music that have shaped my thoughts, and in so doing shaped my story.  The point is not which music inspired what moment, but that music itself forms such unexpected connections within each of us.

What music do you listen to as you write?  What scenes are synonymous with certain songs for you?  What songs have inspired elements of your own stories? 


  1. I completely agree with and adore this article. But, did you forget "Song of the Seahorse?" I love that song, and you introduced me to it. The sweeping sadness of that song is perfect for me to write a little melalcholy. As a personal preference, I also like the songs of Adiemus. Their 'words' are not words, just phoenetic sounds treated like other instruments, and the songs swell with emotion. And, of course, the songbook of John Williams gives me a great boost in energy levels when writing fight scenes.

    Another winner, Brant.

  2. Song of The Seahorse ( is a fantastic, gorgeous song. It too belongs on the short list of my favorites to write by. I simply had to limit my list to a few, and I decided to mention All the Strange Strange Creatures instead because it is more "epic" and general in its inspirational value. As far as John Williams is concerned, well duh, of course everything he does is great. After all, he's John Williams. (See for details)

  3. I thought of this song by Adiemus when I wrote the speech Saramants makes after her mother and sisters' deaths in my first book. Well, what was my first attempt at a book for the writer's group. I love the way it makes me feel, which is what I think she feels when she has to make her first speech as an unexpected Queen.

    And for my wolfie book, Moonlit, I love to listen to BT, like this one:

    My standards are, like stated previously, John Williams ( and a little James Horner on the side ( Also the soundtracks to the Rocketeer ( and Labyrinth (

    Hope this helps describe a little about me and what I like to write to.