The Novel Playlist

May 12, 2010

I've never been one for listening to music while working. When I was a student, I found it distracting and couldn't focus on solving the problem at hand, because my brain kept listening to lyrics or melodies instead of staying centered on the page in front of me. It's the same at work. Many of my colleagues can't live without music piped into headphones in our open plan office; for them, it removes the distraction of the office hustle and bustle. But for me, I wind up too involved in the music itself, and not enough in the task at hand. For some reason, the opposite is true while driving - I can't imaging a road trip without decent tunes, and my attention stays much more on the road with a good song playing in the background.

At any rate, while writing Untalented, I never listened to music. This made me feel like a bit of a freak among writers, as so many seem to swear by music as a way to release the creative juices, or some essential feeling about what they are writing.

So I was surprised to find myself one day on the ferry, listening to a song on my iPhone, and suddenly realizing "Wow. If I ever made a movie based on my book this would be the theme song." It captured so perfectly the soul of my second novel.

I didn't wind up listening to it while writing, but instead would often play it as I sat down to write, to set the mood. Over the course of several months, I accumulated several songs that evoked something in the book for me, whether through lyrics, melody or just general feel, to serve as reminders for me of the emotions my characters were going through, or the feelings I was trying to evoke in the reader.

Here's the playlist:

If I had to pick a single song to represent the book, it would be Arlington. So haunting. So beautiful.

  • Hallelujah, by Jeff Buckley

Aside from the fact that this song is also achingly beautiful, the lyric that resonates in here is "but all I've ever learned from love / was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you"

  • Into The West, by Howard Shore and Annie Lennox
  • Move Along, by The All-American Rejects

At some point I began to realize I was focused too deeply on the main character's pain and past crimes, and not enough on their path to growth. This song was the first one to remind me of that. There are a couple of others in this list that do the same thing.

  • Never Too Late, by Hedley
  • In A Little While, by U2

There's nothing in the lyrics of this songs that related directly in any way to the book. Bono's voice has just got that way of inducing a longing wistfulness that was central to a feeling I was trying to achieve.

  • Being Here, by The Stills

LiveCity Yaletown used this song during the Olympics in their closing show (which is where I first heard it) to a video montage celebrating athletes performing amazing feats. When I finally tracked it down and bought it, it turns out the lyrics are about a very tortured character. Which I found odd for an Olympic montage, but perfect for the book.

  • Beautiful Dawn, by The Wailin' Jennys
  • Trust Yourself, by Blue Rodeo
  • All These Things I've Done, by The Killers

Well, yes, in the end, the battle IS won by all these things I've done, isn't it? Plus my main character's got SOUL. In more ways than one.

4 comments on “The Novel Playlist”

  1. Oh, I love a good writing playlist! Good stuff in here!

    I had one for my first book that was about ten million songs and lasted for about 80 years or so. Then the hard-drive shat the bed and I learned the hard way about data backup.

    Now i just have one massive playlist of WRITING MUSIC which is only two days long. Then I have one called MIDNIGHT RIDES which is also about the same and is darker and moodier stuff.

    Funny though I never tailor a playlist to a character specifically. I suspect they would all hate my music and ask to hear something with vocals and less screaming. Much like my wife.

  2. This is fabulous! I stumbled on your blog while searching for a more permanent theme for my own -- I saw your comments on the download page for the Promised Land theme and popped over to see the theme in action. Nice to discover another writer--I've been meaning to come up with a soundtrack for my current project, and your post has inspired me to finally get around to doing so. :-)

  3. Glad to be of help. I've modified the theme for use within another theme (Atahualpa) because I couldn't get it to work properly once I upgraded WP one too many times. Welcome to the blog.

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